×

Al Jazeera acquires Current TV

Middle East news org aims to expand U.S. presence via $500 million pact

In a bold move to expand its U.S. presence, Middle East news org Al Jazeera has acquired cabler Current TV in a deal valued at about $500 million.

Doha, Qatar-based Al Jazeera intends to rebrand the cabler as Al Jazeera America, emphasizing international news for U.S. auds. Sale was unveiled Wednesday by Current TV chiefs Al Gore and Joel Hyatt, who put the news and public affairs-centric cabler on the block in October.

At present, Current TV is available in just under 60 million homes. But on the heels of the sale news, Time Warner Cable, which had already identified Current as one of a number of channels it intended to drop because of low ratings, said in a statement that it had “terminated” its carriage agreement with Current and was “removing the service as quickly as possible.”

Al Jazeera may face similar moves by other providers, as carriage pacts often allow distribs to drop a channel if it undergoes a significant makeover.

Al Jazeera, which is owned by the state of Qatar but operates as an independent broadcaster, remains a politically controversial outfit for some in the U.S., given its association in the mind of many viewers with coverage of terrorist actions against Western targets. But since its bow in 1999 as a 24-hour news outfit, Al Jazeera has gained credibility as a news org and is widely distribbed in major foreign markets, particularly the U.K. Nonetheless, it has had a hard time securing U.S. distribution for the Al Jazeera English offshoot channel that launched in 2006.

Some of Al Jazeera’s news and docu programming airs in the U.S. on low-profile channels, and it is made available by satcaster Dish Network as part of an Arab-themed channel package. It’s expected that Al Jazeera will focus its U.S. efforts going forward on the rebranded Al Jazeera America and allow Al Jazeera English to remain a going concern in other international markets.

Former Vice President Gore and his partner Hyatt each held 20% stakes in Current TV, according to a source. Comcast also held a 10% stake, and others with a piece of Current include Ron Burkle’s Yucaipa Companies and Blum Capital. News of Current’s deal with Al Jazeera was first reported by the New York Times.

“We are proud and pleased that Al Jazeera, the award-winning international news organization, has bought Current TV,” Gore and Hyatt said in a statement. “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, like Current, believes that facts and truth lead to a better understanding of the world around us.”

Deal will effectively dissolve Current TV as a cable network in as little as three months. Al Jazeera intends to establish a New York-based production hub to feed Al Jazeera America and its other channels. Current also has production facilities in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Miami and Chicago.

From the start, Current struggled with low ratings and a low profile. The channel was launched in 2005 after Gore and Hyatt bought the little-seen cabler NewsWorld Intl. from Vivendi Universal. It initially focused on low-end docu fare produced in-house, but gradually its horizons expanded to more traditional news and public affairs programming. Current made a bid to join the cable news big leagues by recruiting Keith Olbermann in 2011 to host a nightly program, but relations between the famously mercurial host and the cabler quickly soured and Olbermann left amid lawsuits and recriminations last March.

Current’s on-air roster includes shows hosted by Eliot Spitzer, John Fugelsang, Joy Behar, Cenk Uyger and California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

In a memo to staffers, Hyatt said he and Gore would serve as advisers to Al Jazeera America and aimed to help “build an important news network.” Hyatt emphasized Al Jazeera’s news credentials, its broad reach overseas, with 80 bureaus and distribution in more than 260 million homes, and Qatar’s status as a close ally of the United States.

There was no immediate word about the fate of existing Current staffers. Hyatt said in his meme he would facilitate meetings between Al Jazeera execs and Current employees in the coming days.

Raine Group worked with Current TV on the sale to Al Jazeera.

More TV

  • Orlando Bloom Comic Con Immigrant San

    Orlando Bloom Claims San Diego Mayor Ran From Comic-Con Exhibit Featuring Immigrant Characters

    Did an immigration storyline cause Republican San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer to run out of Amazon Prime Video’s Comic-Con activation this week? According to “Carnival Row” star Orlando Bloom, that’s exactly what happened. At Amazon’s “Carnival Row” panel, Bloom told the audience that Faulconer stopped by the Prime Video activation and chose the “Carnival Row” [...]

  • 'Game of Thrones' Cast Calls Final

    'Game of Thrones' Cast Calls Final Season Backlash 'Media-Led Hate Campaign'

    What is life like now after “Game of Thrones?” That’s the question that fans have been asking themselves and that cast members had to answer at the show’s final Comic-Con panel. But first, Conleth Hill, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and several others cleared the air and addressed the perceived negative response to the final season. “I don’t [...]

  • SDCC Roundup: AMC Drops 'The Walking

    SDCC TV News Roundup: AMC Releases 'The Walking Dead' Season 10 Trailer (Watch)

    San Diego Comic-Con has become a hotbed of entertainment news in recent years, especially for the television industry. In today’s SDCC TV news roundup, AMC dropped a trailer for the 10th season of “The Walking Dead” and FX released a first look at “Mayans MC” Season 2. FIRST LOOKS AMC debuted the trailer for Season [...]

  • ARCHER: 1999 -- "Cubert" -- Season

    'Archer' Renewed for Season 11 at FXX

    “Archer” has been picked up for an eleventh season. The announcement was made Friday at San Diego Comic-Con. The news comes less than a week ahead of the Season 10 finale. Season 11 is slated to debut on FXX in 2020. While the show initially focused on the agents and support staff of a covert [...]

  • Carnival Row

    Amazon Debuts New 'Carnival Row' Footage at Comic-Con (Watch)

    San Diego Comic-Con attendees got an extended look at the upcoming Amazon drama “Carnival Row” during the show’s panel at the annual fanfest on Friday. Two new featurettes (see above and below) offer in-depth looks at the backstories of the two main characters — Vignette Stonemoss (Cara Delevigne) and Rycroft Philostrate (Orlando Bloom). Delevigne plays [...]

  • Emmys: 'Better Call Saul' Short Loses

    'Better Call Saul' Short Loses Emmy Nominations in Light of Category Rule Violation

    Better Call AMC: Two Emmy nominations for the network’s short-form series “Better Call Saul Employee Training: Madrigal Electromotive Security” have been pulled after it was deemed ineligible for competition. The Television Academy recently discovered that the series didn’t meet the minimum required runtime of two minutes for at least six episodes — a new stipulation [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content