It’s a foothold in the U.S., but Time Warner pulls the plug on part of its distribution
Al Jazeera is set to acquire Current TV, replacing Current’s brand and programing with its own later this year. It marks an opportunity to grow the Qatar-based, Pan-Arab news organization’s American exposure.
Al Jazeera paid a reported $500 million for Current TV.
“We are proud and pleased that Al Jazeera, the award-winning international news organization, has bought Current TV,” said Al Gore, co-founder and chairman, and Joel Hyatt, co-founder and CEO, in a joint statement. “Since its founding in 2005, Current has grown into a national network available in nearly 60 million homes, offering thought-provoking commentary and Emmy and Peabody award-winning programming. Current Media was built based on a few key goals: 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 has the same goals and, like Current, believes that facts and truth lead to a better understanding of the world around us.”
Under its new ownership, the channel will provide both domestic and international news for American audiences from a headquarters in New York, Al Jazeera said in a statement.
Al Jazeera currently has news bureaus in New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Miami and Chicago, and plans to open additional locations in key markets across the country. It also intends to double the network’s U.S.-based staff to more than 300 employees.
Current has struggled since its debut, unable to find its footing in the ratings or with its hosts. It said in October that it was considering buyout offers, with Mr. Hyatt confirming at the time that the network had decided to “engage expertise to help us evaluate our strategic options” and that it had already received several offers.
The network has tested several formats and types of programming since its inception, starting with user-generated content and turning toward liberal political opinion with the hiring of Keith Olbermann in 2011. The network fired Olbermann in 2012 and replaced him with former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer. Other hosts include Joy Behar, former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm.
The network is currently distributed in about 60 million homes in the U.S., enough to make it a tempting target for anyone looking to start a new cable channel or expand their reach, but still well below MSNBC, for example, which is in 96 million homes.
Al Jazeera, which established its English-language offshoot in 2006, has had trouble getting carriage in the U.S. It is currently available in only a handful of cities, including New York City and Washington, D.C. The company is based in Doha, Qatar, and funded by the Qatar government.
The deal could dramatically and suddenly expand Al Jazeera’s reach in the United States. But Time Warner Cable also said Wednesday night that it is terminating its carriage of the network. “We are removing the service as quickly as possible,” a spokeswoman said in an email.
According to Al Jazeera, nearly 40% of all its online viewing of Al Jazeera English comes from the U.S.
“U.S. viewers have clearly demonstrated that they like the way Al Jazeera provides compelling, in-depth news to audiences across the world,” he said. “Everyone at Al Jazeera takes great pride in the independence, impartiality, professionalism and courage of our journalism. I look forward to bringing these standards to our new American audiences and working with our new colleagues at Current.”
The New York Times first reported the deal Wednesday afternoon.