Insha’Allah. God was willing.
While America was teetering on the fiscal cliff, Gore avoided higher taxes by sealing the Current TV/Al Jazeera deal before year’s end.
NYT: Al Jazeera did not disclose the purchase price, but people with direct knowledge of the deal pegged it at around $500 million, indicating a $100 million payout for Mr. Gore, who owned 20 percent of Current. Mr. Gore and his partners were eager to complete the deal by Dec. 31, lest it be subject to higher tax rates that took effect on Jan. 1, according to several people who insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. But the deal was not signed until Wednesday.
Eliot Spitzer, Joy Behar out “in the spring.” Cable news blowhards without an audience. Not to say they had one on ratings disaster Current TV.
Brian Stelter NYT: Current will provide the pan-Arab news giant with something it has sought for years: a pathway into American living rooms. Current is available in about 60 million of the 100 million homes in the United States with cable or satellite service.
Rather than simply use Current to distribute its English-language channel, called Al Jazeera English and based in Doha, Qatar, Al Jazeera will create a new channel, called Al Jazeera America, based in New York. 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 people with knowledge of the deal 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.
“Al Jazeera is planning to invest significantly in building ‘Al Jazeera America,’ a network focused on international news for the American audience,” the Current chief executive Joel Hyatt said in an e-mail to staffers on Wednesday evening. Referring to Mr. Gore, he said, “Al and I will both serve on the advisory board of Al Jazeera America, and we look forward to helping build an important news network.”
The plan will bring Al Jazeera, which is financed by the government of Qatar, into closer competition with CNN and other news channels in the United States.
For Al Jazeera, the acquisition is a coming-of-age moment. A decade ago, the Arabic-language channel was reviled by American politicians for showing video tapes and messages from al Qaeda members and sympathizers. Now it is acquiring an American channel.
“They really want to be able to compete for American viewers, and they have to find some way to get on,” said Philip Seib, the director of the center on public diplomacy at the University of Southern California and the author of “The Al Jazeera Effect.”
Mr. Seib said access to Americans is important both for economic reasons, for the channel’s advertisers, and for “the journalistic legitimacy of their venture.”
To date, the country’s cable and satellite distributors have been reluctant to carry Al Jazeera English. It is available in just a handful of cities, including New York and Washington. To change that, Al Jazeera has lobbied distributors, called for a letter-writing campaign by supporters and promoted its widely praised coverage of the Arab Spring.
Acquiring Current TV, and thus its distribution deals across the country, solves this dilemma for Al Jazeera, at least partially.
Current is hard to find on many cable lineups, and some analysts say it’s at risk of being dropped by some companies because of low ratings, but it would give Al Jazeera a foothold on the country’s cable and satellite service lineups. Then Al Jazeera could revamp the channel and promote it as a new American-based news source.
Representatives for Current TV and Al Jazeera did not immediately respond to requests for comment. There was no immediate word about the sale price.
Al Gore’s Current TV was never popular with viewers, but it was a hit where it counted: with cable and satellite providers. When he co-founded the channel in 2005, Mr. Gore managed to get the channel piped into tens of millions of households — a huge number for an untested network — through a combination of personal lobbying and arm-twisting of industry giants.
He called on those skills again after deciding in December to sell Current TV to Al Jazeera for $500 million. To preserve the deal — and the estimated $100 million he would personally receive — he went to some of those same distributors, who were looking for an excuse to drop the low-rated channel, and reminded them that their contracts with Current TV called it a news channel. Were the distributors going to say that an American version of Al Jazeera didn’t qualify, possibly invoking ugly stereotypes of the Middle Eastern news giant?
“The lawyers for the carriers couldn’t find their way around it,” said a person briefed on the negotiations who described them on condition of anonymity.
The deal completed an eight-year odyssey for Mr. Gore and for Current TV that confirmed one of the realities of show business: it can be a lot easier to profit from a channel than to come up with must-see TV for viewers.
Television executives and observers were surprised by both the big price tag and the decision by Mr. Gore, one of the best-known proponents for action to combat global warming, to sell to a Middle Eastern monarchy built with oil wealth.
The headline on a FoxNews.com op-ed on Thursday was “Global warming guru Al Gore becomes rich hypocrite with sale of Current TV to Qatar, Inc.” Several analysts said that Al Jazeera overpaid for Current.
“The deep-pocketed Qatari royal family backing Al Jazeera handily outbid any other bidder’s rational bid,” the research firm PrivCo said in a note to clients.
Mr. Gore did not directly respond to those lines of criticism on Thursday. But in an e-mail message he wrote of his reason for divesting: “I am incredibly proud of what Current has been able to accomplish. But broadcast media is a business, and being an independent content producer in a time of increasing consolidation is a challenge.”
None of the hosts could attract an audience large enough to satisfy distributors, particularly Time Warner Cable, which had been warning for over a year that it might drop Current from its lineup. Mr. Gore, frustrated by the low ratings, told associates he felt he was having more impact through his AlGore.com blog and through volunteer training than through Current.
Last summer Mr. Gore started anchoring election coverage himself, but by then he and his co-founder Joel Hyatt were determined to cash out. In the fall, their bankers invited a phalanx of major media companies, including The New York Times Company, to look at Current’s books and took calls from interested parties, including Glenn Beck’s online network TheBlaze, which like Al Jazeera has been seeking to make deals with distributors.
The prospect of Mr. Gore’s doing business with Mr. Beck, a staunch conservative, was even more unlikely than Mr. Gore and Al Jazeera. Mr. Beck said on his radio show Thursday that his company’s interest was rebuffed “within 15 minutes.”
“We were not allowed to the table,” he said. “He didn’t sell to the highest bidder. He looked for, Who do I ideologically align with?” Mr. Beck’s producer Stu Burguiere added, “The guy who was vice president of the United States and was 537 votes away from being president during 9/11 is ideologically aligned, by his own definition, with the network that Osama bin Laden went to every time he wanted to get a message out.”
Mr. Gore, who will have an unpaid seat on the board of the new Al Jazeera channel, does not see it that way. Al Jazeera, he said, is one of the most popular media companies in the world.
“Their global reach is unmatched and their coverage of major events like the Arab Spring is thorough, fair and informative.”
Time Warner cable reacted by pulling the plug on Current. An “unfortunate” move, opines a NYT editorial:
“Al Jazeera could bring an important international perspective to American audiences and should be given a chance to prove itself commercially before cable companies remove Current TV from their lineups.”