Gore gets media outlet

INdTV buys Viv U cable channel

This article was updated at 4:53 p.m.

Former vice president Al Gore officially entered the TV biz Tuesday, closing a deal to buy a tiny global-news cabler from Vivendi Universal that will be overhauled to target young people with a wide range of programming.

Gore and business partner Joel Hyatt revealed the purchase of Newsworld Intl. by their new media company during a surprise stop at the National Cable & Telecommunications Assn. confab in New Orleans. Neither would reveal the asking price, which is rumored to be about $70 million.

“Yes, I’m making a long-term commitment to the future of this network. I don’t expect to ever be a candidate for office again,” Gore said, nearly four years after he narrowly lost his race for the White House.

Insisting the channel would not be about politics, Gore and Hyatt were loath to say much more about programming plans, nor give a launch date or the net’s new name; for now, they’re sticking with the name NWI.

Decrying the current era of media consolidation, Gore also trumpeted the fact that the new channel is independently backed by private investors.

“This is not going to be a liberal network or a Democratic network or a political network in any way, shape or form,” Gore said. “It is going to be an exciting television home for young people in their 20s who want to learn more about the world and hear real-life stories about the world and about their lives in a voice that they recognize, with a point of view that they recognize as their own.”

Aimed at 18-34

Gore and Hyatt hinted the channel would be a blend of public-affairs programming, documentaries and comedy formats. It will target the most elusive demo of all, adults 18-34.

“We’re going to be irreverent, we’re going to be bold,” Hyatt promised. “You’re also going to see some formats that you haven’t seen before. That’s our aspiration. Whether we succeed or not remains to be seen.”

Gore, who said he would devote much of his time to the venture, will be chairman of the board of the newly formed IndTV Holdings; Hyatt, a longtime Democratic Party fund-raiser, is CEO. Mark Goldman, a TV exec who formerly ran News Corp.’s Latin American satellite venture, is chief operating officer. Company’s home base has yet to be announced.

NWI, which reaches 15 million-17 million viewers in the U.S., will continue to run global news programs produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Co. until IndTV launches its lineup.

Hyatt said the biggest challenge would be to increase carriage. By any measure, NWI’s reach is small. It’s currently distributed to DirecTV’s 11 million subscribers across the U.S. and about 5 million Time Warner cable subscribers, including those in Manhattan. NWI also is carried on some Comcast cable systems, reaching about 700,000 subscribers, including in the San Francisco area.

INdTV has two primary equity capital firms: San Francisco’s Blum Capital and the Yucaipa Cos., headquartered in Los Angeles. Former Warner Bros. homevideo topper Warren Lieberfarb and RealNetworks topper Rob Glaser are among INdTV’s investors.

Resources ready

“We are buying an asset that’s profitable; that’s always better than buying an asset that’s bleeding,” Hyatt said. “But it’s going to take a lot of investment to execute our strategic plan and our business plan, and we have a great group of investors. We’ve raised the resources we believe are necessary to not only make the acquisition we made today, but to invest in the future of our network.”

Gore and Hyatt said a number of Hollywood writers, directors and producers have already offered their help.

“We have a very talented team that is already put together, and we’re going to be building on that team,” Gore said. “I will be extremely active in this venture, and I will not hesitate to state a point of view on the issues that affect the industry. But before I do that, I want to consult with and learn from my new colleagues in this industry and how these issues affect a startup like ours.”

NWI was not part of the Vivendi Universal Entertainment group of assets that the French conglom agreed to sell to GE-NBC. The NBC U merger is expected to close May 11. NWI, along with Trio, was sold to USA Cable by CBS in May 2000.

Other INdTV investors include Chicago venture capitalist Bruce Rauner and former West Publishing prexy Vance Opperman.