The revolution will be televised — but via smart phone. C-SPAN once again became the unlikely home of Must-See TV on Wednesday night, as Democrats staged a sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives to push for a debate on gun legislation.
Republican leaders — led by Speaker Paul Ryan — shut off the cameras in the House, serving as a reminder that the government controls the official feeds serviced by Congress to C-SPAN and other media outlets. That’s when several members – including Rep. Scott Peters (D-S.D.), Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) and Eric Swalwell (D-CA) – pulled out their smartphones and began broadcasting the protest via Facebook Live and Periscope.
That’s despite rules against photo taking inside the House. The video was at times shaky, and the audio was weak, but it was good enough for C-SPAN, which soon took advantage of feeds being provided by several different members. When one feed became too choppy, C-SPAN could quickly switch to another one.
TV execs have been leery of live video apps like Periscope due to piracy concerns, particularly on premium channels (“Game of Thrones”) and live pay-per-view events (like last year’s Pacquiao/Holyfield fight). In this case, it helped the traditional media outlets, as Periscope and other social media platforms became a vital tool for C-SPAN and news outlets like CNN to cover the unprecedented demonstration.
For C-SPAN, this was the second major Capitol Hill event it covered in recent days, following the Orlando shooting tragedy. Last week, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) conducted a 15-hour filibuster on the Senate floor, also pushing for action on gun legislation. C-SPAN 2 covered that event in its entirety.
Whether the live video app coverage of the Democratic House sit-in sets a new precedent – and further cuts out traditional media from its role as a middleman – remains to be seen. But as one pundit said on CNN, the “Geneva Convention”-like protocol that the political parties have adhered to for decades is falling apart, and that also means that media must take more guerilla actions to cover politics.
The sit-in began on Wednesday morning at around 11:25 a.m. Among those taking part: Civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), who wrote on Twitter, ” We have a mission, a mandate, and a moral obligation to speak up and speak out until the House votes to address gun violence.” Ryan dismissed the sit-in as a stunt.
Meanwhile, on CBS’ “The Late Show,” Stephen Colbert quipped that the camera blackout upset “C-SPAN’s viewer,” and asked what C-SPAN’s purpose was if it didn’t control the Congress cameras: “Is it a money laundering scheme? Are they a front for the world’s most boring heroin cartel? I don’t understand!”