Al Jazeera buys Al Gore's Current TV news network

Planned relaunch as Al Jazeera America this year


Pan-Arabic news network Al Jazeera has acquired Current TV, the small cable news network cofounded by one-time presidential hopeful Al Gore, for an undisclosed sum.

Current TV's present line-up of programming will continue for three months, The New York Times reports, after which it will be phased out to make way for a new network that will most likely be branded Al Jazeera America.

Initially, at least, the revamped network will offer a simulcast feed of Al Jazeera English, the group's current English-language channel, which is broadcast out of Doha, Qatar. (Al Jazeera is owned and operated by the government of Qatar.)

Sometime later in 2013, however, the broadcaster plans to relaunch the channel as a targeted outlet offering 60 per cent American-produced programming, according to sources.

Little if any of Current TV's existing programming is likely to survive the transition, those same sources say, although "Al Jazeera may absorb some Current TV staff members."

If Current TV's content disappears altogether, however, it will be mourned by few. The network is available in roughly 60 million of the 100 million US households, but its viewership is low, with only about 42,000 people watching it on any given evening, according to Nielsen ratings.

As one might expect of a venture founded by Gore, Current's programming typically leans left, including talk shows by former New York governor and attorney general Eliot Spitzer and California lieutenant governor Gavin Newsom.

It's not clear whether Al Jazeera plans to continue that tradition as it seeks to cater to American audiences, but programming on its primary channels has often stood in stark contrast to that found on US networks.

Many in the US were first introduced to Al Jazeera in the early 2000s when it chose to broadcast video statements made by al-Qaeda members, a practice that drew harsh criticism from US politicians. Other lawmakers criticized the broadcaster's decision to show graphic footage from the Iraq war.

Such moves have given Al Jazeera a spotty reputation among Americans, which has hampered its ability to establish a foothold in the US market. The purchase of Current TV gives it a built-in audience – albeit a relatively small one – thanks to Current's existing distribution deals with cable and satellite networks.

Those deals might still not be enough to give Al Jazeera the leverage it needs, however. According to Forbes, Time Warner Cable did not approve of the sale and has said it will drop Current TV from its roster, most likely even before it relaunches under the Al Jazeera brand.

If other operators follow suit, the Current TV acquisition could prove to be a costly blunder for the controversial broadcaster, which is rumored to have paid as much as $400m to acquire Current TV. ®

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