x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Time Warner drops Current after Al Jazeera deal confirmed

The second-largest TV operator in the US, Time Warner Cable, dropped Current after Al Jazeera's purchase of the TV network, a sign that the channel will have an uphill climb to expand its reach.

Former US vice president Al Gore, the co-founder of Current TV.
Former US vice president Al Gore, the co-founder of Current TV.

LOS ANGELES // With its purchase of Current TV, Al Jazeera has fulfilled a long-held quest to reach tens of millions of US homes. But its new audience immediately got a little smaller.

The second-largest TV operator in the US, Time Warner Cable, dropped Current after the deal was confirmed, a sign that the channel will have an uphill climb to expand its reach.

"Our agreement with Current has been terminated and we will no longer be carrying the service. We are removing the service as quickly as possible," the company said.

Still, the acquisition of Current, the news network that was cofounded by the former vice president, Al Gore, boosts Al Jazeera's reach in the US - beyond a few large metropolitan areas including New York and Washington - nearly ninefold, to about 40 million homes.

Mr Gore confirmed the sale on Wednesday, saying in a statement that Al Jazeera shared Current TV's mission "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, owned by the government of Qatar, plans to gradually transform Current into a network called Al Jazeera America by adding five to 10 new US bureaus beyond the five it has now, and hiring more journalists. More than half of the content will be US news and the network will have its headquarters in New York, said Stan Collender, a company spokesman.

Mr Collender said there were no rules against foreign ownership of a cable channel - unlike the strict rules limiting foreign ownership of free-to-air stations. He said the move is based on demand, adding that 40 per cent of viewing traffic on Al Jazeera English's website was from the US.

"This is a pure business decision based on recognised demand," Mr Collender said. "When people watch Al Jazeera, they tend to like it a great deal."

Prior to Al Jazeera's purchase, Current TV was broadcast into 60 million homes. It is carried by Comcast, which had a less than 10 per cent stake in Current TV, as well as DirecTV. Neither company announced plans to drop the channel.

In 2010, Tony Burman, the managing director of Al Jazeera English, blamed a "very aggressive hostility" from the Bush administration for reluctance among cable and satellite companies to show the network.

But there may be a culture clash at the network. Dave Marash, a former reporter for the US news show Nightline, who worked for Al Jazeera in Washington, said he left the network in 2008 in part because he sensed an anti-American bias there.

Current TV, meanwhile, began as a groundbreaking effort to promote user-generated content. But it has settled into a more conventional format of political talk television with a liberal bent.

Mr Gore worked on air as an analyst during its recent election-night coverage.

Its leading personalities are the former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, the former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm and Cenk Uygur, a former political commentator on MSNBC, who hosts the show The Young Turks.