Al Jazeera has acquired Current TV, the progressive cable news station co-founded by Al Gore.
Al Jazeera will replace Current's programming with its own network. The Doha-based channel has long sought to extend the reach of its English-language service in the United States. The deal gives the network the ability to get in front of more American viewers, which has been one of its biggest challenges. Al Jazeera English launched in New York City last year, but has previously faced resistance from cable operators in other parts of the country. Though it remains controversial for many, its reporting from the Middle East during and after the Arab Spring gave it a vastly increased profile — and a new credibility — inside the US.
Sources familiar with the talks told the Times that the channel, called "Al Jazeera America," will be based in New York, with the majority of its content created in the United States. The rest of the content would come from Al Jazeera's English-language channel.
Current co-founder Joel Hyatt told staffers that he and Gore were "thrilled" about the deal. In a possible sign of the lingering skittishness over Al Jazeera, he said that Time Warner Cable will not carry the new channel because it had not "consented" to the acquisition. (Some accused Time Warner of political cowardice.) This will leave Al Jazeera with carriage in around 40 million homes.
The purchase brings to an end the many attempts by Gore and his partners to make Current viable over its seven-year existence. The network morphed repeatedly, from a center for short videos to a home for documentary reporting to its last iteration as a staunchly liberal cable news and opinion network. None of the moves proved successful enough. Host Eliot Spitzer put his finger firmly on the problem earlier in December when he told Fishbowl NY, "Nobody's watching, but I'm having a great time."
Still, the deal could benefit Gore quite a bit. Forbes estimated that the former vice president could make at least $125 million from the sale.