Al Jazeera has struck a deal to purchase Current TV and launch a new U.S.-based news channel, the companies said late Wednesday.
“For many years, we understood that we could make a positive contribution to the news and information available in and about the United States and what we are announcing today will help us achieve that goal,” said Al Jazeera director general Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani. “By acquiring Current TV, Al Jazeera will significantly expand our existing distribution footprint in the U.S., as well as increase our newsgathering and reporting efforts in America.”
“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.
The sale, which was first reported Wednesday in the New York Times, will see Al Jazeera rebrand the network as a domestic and international news channel for American audiences in 2013, replacing Current’s schedule of political shows after a transition period. The new network will be based in New York, with Al Jazeera looking to open new bureaus to supplement its existing news bureaus in New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Miami and Chicago. The company expects to its current U.S. based staff to 300 employees.
An acquisition of the low-rated Current TV was expected, with the network acknowledging it was considering a sale in October, saying then, “Current has been approached many times by media companies interested in acquiring our company. 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.”
The sale will make Al Jazeera’s new network available to more than 40 million U.S. subscribers. Current TV had a distribution footprint of 58 million households, but following news of the acquistion, Time Warner Cable said it would drop the network, which had been available to about 9 million subscribers.
“Our agreement with Current has been terminated and we will no longer be carrying the service,” a TWC spokesperson said. “We are removing the service as quickly as possible.”
A source confirmed it was because of the change in ownership. TWC has the right to carry Al Jazeera under another agreement, but has no plans to do so, according to the source.
Current TV, which was founded in 2005, rebranded as a political news channel in 2011 with the hire of Keith Olbermann, but his show failed to generate big ratings and he was fired from the network last spring. Subsequent shows hosted by Jennifer Granholm, Cenk Uygur and others have also failed to break out, with Current drawing about 42,000 viewers on an average night in 2012, according to Nielsen.
John Eggerton contributed to this report
Source: Broadcasting & Cable, 1/2/12