Al-Jazeera Takes Stand In US Market, Buys Al Gore's Current TV
SAN FRANCISCO, January 04, (THEWILL) - The Qatari-owned, Pan-Arab news channel Al-Jazeera has acquired Current TV, the left-leaning news network that cofounder Al Gore couldn't make relevant. With this acquisition the network that struggled to win space on American cable television will see its reach in the U.S. extend by nearly nine fold to beyond a few large U.S. metropolitan areas including New York and Washington where it is known as Al-Jazeera English but can now reach about 4.7 million homes, according to an AP news report filed in Los Angeles.
Former vice president Al Gore confirmed the sale Wednesday in a statement that Al-Jazeera shares Current TV's mission "to give voice to those who are not typically heard; to speak truth to power; to provide independent and diverse points of view; and to tell the stories that no one else is telling."
Al-Jazeera, owned by the government of Qatar, plans to gradually transform Current TV into a network called Al-Jazeera America by adding five to 10 new U.S. bureaus beyond the five it has now and hire more journalists. More than half of the content will be U.S. news while its headquarters will be sited in New York, spokesman Stan Collender said.
He said there are no rules against foreign ownership of a cable channel — unlike the strict rules limiting foreign ownership of free-to-air TV stations adding the acquisition of Current was due to demand as 40 percent of viewing traffic on Al-Jazeera English's website is from the U.S.
"This is a pure business decision based on recognized demand. When people watch Al-Jazeera, they tend to like it a great deal."
The Qatari satellite TV broadcaster has long struggled to get carriage in the U.S. The deal however suffered an immediate casualty as Time Warner Cable Inc., the second -largest cable TV operator, announced it is dropping Current TV due to the deal.
"Our agreement with Current has been terminated and we will no longer be carrying the service. We are removing the service as quickly as possible," the company said in a statement.
Previous to Al-Jazeera's purchase, Current TV was in 60 million homes. It is carried by Comcast Corp., which owned less than a 10 percent stake in Current TV, as well as DirecTV. Neither company announced plans to drop the channel.
In 2010, Al-Jazeera English's managing director, Tony Burman, blamed a "very aggressive hostility" from the Bush administration for reluctance among cable and satellite companies to show the network.
Even so, Al-Jazeera has garnered respect for its ability to build a serious news product in a short time. In a statement announcing the deal, it touted numerous U.S. journalism awards it received in 2012, including the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award Grand Prize and the Scripps Howard Award for Television/Cable In-Depth Reporting.
But there may be a culture clash at the network. Dave Marash, a former "Nightline" reporter who worked for Al-Jazeera in Washington, said he left the network in 2008 in part because he sensed an anti-American bias there.
Current, meanwhile, began as a groundbreaking effort to promote user-generated content. But it has settled into a more conventional format of political talk television with a liberal bent. Gore worked on-air as an analyst during its recent election night coverage.
Its leading personalities are former New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer, former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Cenk Uygur, a former political commentator on MSNBC who hosts the show called
"The Young Turks." Current signed Keith Olbermann to be its top host in 2011 but his tenure lasted less than a year before it ended in bad blood on both sides.
Current has largely been outflanked by MSNBC in its effort to be a liberal alternative to the leading cable news network, Fox News Channel.
Current hired former CNN Washington bureau chief David Bohrman in 2011 to be its president. Bohrman pushed the network to innovate technologically, with election night coverage that emphasized a conversation over social media.
Current TV, founded in 2005 by former vice president Gore and Joel Hyatt, is expected to post $114 million in revenue in 2013, according to research firm SNL Kagan. The firm pegged the network's cash flow at nearly $24 million a year.