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Current TV

Analyzing Al Jazeera

Media reporters, TV critics and even the New York Times editorial board have been weighing in on Al Jazeera’s purchase of Current TV.

The Baltimore Sun‘s David Zurawik writes that the addition of Al Jazeera to U.S. cable lineups is “a very good thing.”

In fact, the cable industry’s success in keeping Al Jazeera English off all but a handful of systems in the U.S. was one of the great wrongs of American media. And no one, it seems, wanted to address it. Media critics who looked the other way for whatever reasons should be ashamed.

The New York Times wrote an editorial on the matter saying that it “could bring an important international perspective” to U.S. TV, and gently criticized Time Warner Cable for dropping the channel.

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Cable News Talks Current TV Sale

The sale of Current TV to Al Jazeera has also been making waves on competing cable news channels. On Fox News, the bulk of the coverage has been anti-Al Gore and anti Al Jazeera, while CNN took a more analytical approach.

On “The O’Reilly Factor,” Bill O’Reilly dedicated his “Talking Points” to Gore “The Hypocrite,” for trying to sell the network by December 31 in order to take advantage of tax rates.


“On the Record” with Greta Van Susteren took a similar approach (watch here), as did “Fox & Friends” this morning.

CNN hosted Brian Stelter, who broke the story of the sale, and Howard Kurtz, to analyze the move.

Al Gore, Current TV’s ‘Closer’

The New York TimesBrian Stelter has the definitive tick-tock on how Current TV managed to become so big ($100 million in annual revenue) and how the sale to Al Jazeera was finalized. The big takeaway: Current co-founder and former Vice President Al Gore used his muscle to get deals done. One of the most important deals, and the one that arguably helped Current the most, came from News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch:

In a meeting in New York, Mr. Gore leaned on Mr. Murdoch for an extended contract with a lucrative per-subscriber fee.

Mr. Gore asserted that DirecTV should carry a “diverse set of news sources.”

The resulting contract guaranteed Current roughly 10 cents per subscriber per month and helped Mr. Gore secure the financing he needed to acquire Newsworld. It also laid the groundwork for similar extensions with smaller distributors.

That’s why Current, despite having one of the puniest audiences of any widely distributed cable channel, was able to post annual revenue of about $100 million.

Al Jazeera Weighs Its Options, As It Completes Current TV Acquisition

The deal is done. Al Jazeera has completed its acquisition of Current TV, and will re-brand the channel after a transition period from Current TV.

The new channel will not be Al Jazeera English, the company’s English-language news outlet, but rather a new, U.S.-based network. The channel is tentatively being called Al Jazeera America, but a source close to the company says that it isn’t wedded to the name, and may try to create a new brand. One of the options being considered, according to our source, is calling the channel “beIN,” or “beIN News,” to make it mesh with Al Jazeera’s beIN Sport network, which already has some U.S. distribution.

The impetus for the fresh name would stem from Al Jazeera’s brand in the U.S., which, while strong with journalists in New York and DC, is decidedly mixed across the rest of the country.

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Yup, Glenn Beck Tried To Buy Current TV

When Current TV was put on the block, a number of companies inquired about putting in a bid to purchase it. One of those buyers was former Fox News host Glenn Beck, who would have turned the channel into The Blaze, his digital TV network.

Apparently Beck’s company wasn’t even able to place a bid, because of its ideology, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Glenn Beck’s The Blaze approached Current about buying the channel last year, but was told that “the legacy of who the network goes to is important to us and we are sensitive to networks not aligned with our point of view,” according to a person familiar with the negotiations.

Related: It has been a long road for Beck, from radio to TV to his own company. Watch him talk about his first big break in media here.

Current TV Already Removed from Time Warner Cable

At least one large cable system has removed Current TV from the lineup following Al Jazeera’s $500 million acquisition of the network. Late today NYT’s Brian Stelter spoke with reps from Time Warner Cable in New York City who said a clause in their contract allows them to remove the channel, adding, “We are removing the service as quickly as possible.” The plug was pulled following Eliot Spitzer‘s 8pm show. It was Spitzer who told our Diane Clehane a few weeks ago, “Nobody’s watching, but I’m having a great time.”

Stelter reports former VP Al Gore, a 20% owner of Current, stands to make $100 million on the deal. He and majority owner Joel Hyatt will sit on an advisory board as Al Jazeera launches a new channel for an American audience which is expected to include about 60% of coverage from Al Jazeera English, which is also in limited distribution in the U.S. Time Warner Cable, which accounted for 14 million Current subscribers, is not planning to carry the new channel.

NY Times: Al Jazeera Finalizing Deal To Acquire Current TV

Qatar-based Al Jazeera is in final negotiations to acquire Current TV, the cable channel co-founded and operated by former Vice President Al Gore and his business partner Joel Hyatt, according to Brian Stelter in the New York Times. Current TV has distribution in 60 million homes, giving Al Jazeera a large and immediate U.S. footprint

The result will be a new channel, not simply a simulcast of Al Jazeera English, the company’s English-language cable news outlet. As for Current TV’s current slate of staffers and shows, the future remains unclear, but likely grim.

Rather than simply use Current to distribute its existing English-language channel, called Al Jazeera English and based in Doha, Qatar, Al Jazeera will create a new channel based in New York, according to people with knowledge of the deal negotiations. Potentially called Al Jazeera America, roughly 60 percent of the programming will be produced in the United States while the remaining 40 percent will come from Al Jazeera English.

Al Jazeera may absorb some Current TV staff members, according to the people, who insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. But Current’s schedule of shows will most likely be dissolved in the spring.

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Darrell Hammond Impersonates Al Sharpton on Current TV’s Sandy Relief Benefit

Joy Behar‘s comedy fundraiser for victims of Hurricane Sandy aired Current TV Friday night. The event was taped Monday at the 92nd Street Y and included appearances from Larry David, Colin Quinn and Wendy Williams.

Behar asked former SNL cast member Darrell Hammond who the most interesting voice in politics is. Hammond said he was a big fan of Al Sharpton, launching into an impersonation of the “colorful” MSNBC host:

Bill Press Seeks Wider Audience On Current TV, But Early Results Not Promising

Politico’s Mackenzie Weinger profiles liberal radio host and Current TV talent Bill Press.

And now that he’s on Current TV, even with its small share of viewers, Press said he sees an opportunity for his brand to really flourish.
Current TV’s executive vice president of programming Shelley Lewis said Press “was one of the first people we thought of when we were ready to expand our programming line up.”

“The fact that he gave us a high-profile presence in Washington was a factor. But there are lots of people doing radio or TV shows in Washington,” Lewis said. “Bill is a standout — he’s so smart, so connected, so passionately progressive and so much fun to listen to and watch.”

One of the big challenges facing Press (and Current TV) is that the liberal networks has failed to attract any sort of meaningful viewership since the departure of Keith Olbermann.

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Current TV Is Up For Sale

The New York Post‘s Claire Atkinson and Emily Smith report that Current TV is up for sale. The network is seeking out a company that can help guide any prospective inquiries, according to a statement from Current CEO Joel Hyatt.

“Current has been approached many times by media companies interested in acquiring our company,” CEO Joel Hyatt told The Post. “This year alone, we have had three inquiries. As a consequence, we thought it might be useful to engage expertise to help us evaluate our strategic options.”

Current has struggled mightily in the ratings, even with its coverage of the political conventions and Presidential debates. The channel re-branded as a liberal talk network with the addition of Keith Olbermann last year, and his show was the channel’s highest-rated. Since Olbermann was fired by Current earlier this year, none of its primetime shows have been able to click with viewers.

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