Time Warner Cable made it official this morning: Al Jazeera America, the Qatar-owned news channel that launched in the U.S. on August 20, will be added to its lineup beginning — today. That bring to nearly 55 million the number of homes in which the channel will be available in the U.S. Throw your mind back to January 2 of this year, when Current TV CEO Joel Hyatt confirmed the sale of that network to Al Jazeera in a memo to staffers. Time Warner Cable would not consent to the sale, said Current would no longer be carried on TWC, and that it was “removing the service as quickly as possible,” while promising it was “keeping an open mind.” The loss of the No. 2 cable operator cost Al Jazeera America 12.2M video subscribers (Current reached about 59M homes). It wasn’t until October that the two parties reached a carriage agreement and TWC announced it would carry the network on its TWC and Bright House Networks systems. Back then, TWC EVP Melinda Witmer explained, “Now that the channel is live, we think that it would be of value to our customers and are pleased to make it available.” So, starting today, Al Jazeera America is available via TWC in the country’s top two markets, New York and Los Angeles. In New York City, Al …
Less than two weeks before its scheduled launch, and days after bailing on a scheduled appearance before a couple hundred journalists to take questions at Summer TV Press Tour 2013, Al Jazeera America announced Kathy Davidov had joined the network as head of its in-house documentary film unit, and that Neal Scarbrough and Jeff Green will lead its sports unit. Davidov most recently was exec vp of production for National Geographic Television, where she provided creative guidance for all content, including Explorer, and Border Wars; she also served as an exec producer at TLC, where she helmed such shows as Trading Spaces. She’ll be joined by Cynthia Kane who’s been named senior producer of the docu unit, coming from ITVS, after a stint in programming and acquisitions at Sundance Channel where she co-created “Doc Day”.
Over in sports, meanwhile, Scarbrough has been named senior exec producer, and Green is exec producer. Scarbrough joins Al Jazeera America from Comcast where he’d been vp of digital media for the Versus Sports Network (now NBC Sports Network) before moving over into corporate communications. He also ran the sports division at AOL and was an editor-in-chief at ESPN.com. Green was supervising producer of special events at Current TV – the network AJA is replacing. He also played a role in the launch of Yankees Entertainment and Sports network.
One week after ESPN announced it had signed Keith Olbermann to host a weekday late-night show on ESPN2, the guy who’d been savaging the place since it showed him the door nearly two decades back came to the Summer TCA Press Tour and said the reunion was practically inevitable and it had been a great place to work. “The reality is that whatever I have thought of ESPN when I worked there — and I thought I had a pretty good perspective about the place — I didn’t know what I was talking about,” he told TV critics and reporters in the room. “The places I went afterwards made ESPN look like a Let’s Applaud Keith session for five years.” Back in 2007 — a decade after he left ESPN — he told Dave Letterman, “ I don’t burn bridges, I burn rivers. You burn a bridge, you can possibly build a new bridge. When there’s no river anymore, that’s a lot of trouble.” On Wednesday, however, he said if you burn a bridge, “take the tunnel.”
One of those Worse Than ESPN places at which he labored — Current TV — was so bad, comparing ESPN to it was like comparing “color TV to radio.”
He had a million of ‘em. The critics lapped it up.
Al Jazeera America today announced its first four news anchors, including Richelle Carey, former weekday anchor for CNN’s HLN. Carey will join Jonathan Betz, Morgan Fogarty and Del Walters presenting live news throughout the day from Al Jazeera America’s studio in New York City. Betz is a former field reporter and fill-in anchor at the ABC affiliate station in Dallas. Fogarty was the main 10 PM anchor at the CW affiliate in Charlotte, NC. Walters spent more than two decades as an anchor at the ABC affiliate in Washington, D.C. Back in January, Al Jazeera coughed up a reported $500 million to buy Al Gore’s little-watched Current TV and replace it with Al Jazeera America, which is scheduled to launch next month, funded by the government of Qatar.
It’s the possible beginning of the end for a media consultant’s lawsuit against Al Gore and Current TV. John Terenzio wants $5M from his suit alleging that he was instrumental in Current’s $500M sale to Al Jazeera earlier this year — and that the former VP and his cable channel squeezed him out of the deal. But on Tuesday Superior Court Judge Ernest Goldsmith in San Francisco dismissed the defendants’ demurrer motion, finding that Terenzio failed to offer enough facts to establish “personal liability” on Gore’s part. The judge has given Terenzio 10 days to amend his complaint with new info. The case has moved relatively quickly since it was first filed in the spring. The plaintiff argued that Gore initially opposed Terenzio’s proposal to cut a deal with the news service backed by the government of Qatar, but ended up with an agreement that was virtually identical to the one he recommended. The new owner plans to use the asset to launch the new Al Jazeera America channel later this summer.
Al Jazeera America confirmed this morning it had signed a deal with former CNN star Soledad O’Brien to contribute to the network as “special correspondent.” O’Brien’s production company, Starfish Media Group will produce hourlong documentary specials for the cable network. “I look forward to beginning a relationship with Al Jazeera America, which has made a commitment to producing quality programming and pursuing underreported stories,” O’Brien said in the announcement, confirming speculation that started last week. As a correspondent, O’Brien will contribute short-form segments to the primetime current affairs mag America Tonight on the new network, which is funded by the government of Qatar.
O’Brien stepped down from CNN in March when network chief Jeff Zucker scrubbed her program Starting Point; he gave the time slot to Chris Cuomo’s New Day. At the time she left CNN, she formed Starfish Media, which, in addition to the production deal with Al Jazeera America, now also has a production deal with CNN, and development deals at HBO and National Geographic Channel.
UPDATE, 4:54PM: A day after a deal was reach in Keith Olbermann’s $50 million lawsuit against Current TV, the former TV host and his former employer have issued a short joint statement officially confirming the settlement:
“The parties are pleased to announce that a settlement has occurred, and that the terms are confidential. Nothing more will be disclosed regarding the settlement.”
PREVIOUSLY, TUESDAY PM: Looks like Bay Area mediation worked where LA litigation could not for Keith Olbermann in his $50 million lawsuit against Current TV. A daylong session in San Francisco at the offices of Antonio Piazza of Mediation Negotiations has led to a settlement between the parties. While specifics of the agreement are confidential, a source tells Deadline that Olbermann is set to receive a significant payout from Current. The former ESPN and MSNBC anchor’s deal also means it won’t impact the Al Gore co-founded Current’s recent $500 million sale to Al Jazeera. Late last week, in heavily redacted court documents filed under seal in LA Superior Court, the former Countdown frontman requested an April 24 hearing for a summary judgment to rule in his favor over Current.
Olbermann sued his former employer for breach of contact and other claims on April 5, 2012 for the full multimillion-dollar sum of his five-year contract, this after Current fired Olbermann that March after less than a year at the network. On April 6, Current filed a cross complaint claiming it had “every right to terminate Mr. Olbermann’s services.” Both parties are expected to file documents relatively soon to dismiss the case.
Things got a little too warm when Al Gore took to the stage at the SXSW Interactive festival Saturday to talk about The Future — that is, his new book subtitled Six Drivers Of Global Change as well as the NRA, the internet and global warming, natch. AllThingsD editor Walt Mossberg took the opportunity to call the former VP on an inconvenient truth — not his movie, the hypocrisy of his sale of Current TV to Al Jazeera. “You sold your network to Al Jazeera, which is owned by a government that’s a big oil producer,” asked Mossberg. “How could you do that?” Gore eventually responded “I don’t ask you why you continue working for Rupert Murdoch.” Uh-oh. Mossberg parried, “Last I checked, he’s not in the oil business”. Gore retorted, “He’s also not strictly in the news business, either”.
The ongoing sideshow that is Keith Olbermann and his employment woes just continues. Within days before a high level mediation meeting in San Francisco, the one-time TV host is now seeking a summary judgment in his $50 million lawsuit against Current TV (now being sold to Al Jazeera). In heavily redacted court documents (read them here) filed under seal in LA Superior Court on Thursday the former Countdown frontman wants an April 24 hearing to rule in his favor over his former employers. The documents filed this week are Olbermann’s evidence why the court should rule for him. While most of the document is blanked out, the introduction to the 25-page filing gives a pretty good sense of where the former talking head is coming from:
Current breached 16(a)(i) of the Agreement by making disparaging and derogatory statements in the public and to its staff about Mr. Olbermann and by disclosing confidential terms of the parties’ Agreement to the press. Current breached 2(a)(ii) of the Agreement by using Mr. Olbermann’s likeness in connection with advertising the Program properties, all without his prior approval. Current breached 5(c) by using Olbermann’s name, without his approval, in connection with a commercial for AT&T. Current breached 2(a) and 2(b)(ii) by denying Mr. Olbermann editorial control over “Program Specials” broadcast on Current, and breached 2(a)(i) by refusing Mr. Olbermann editorial control of the website when it denied his request to stream segments of Countdown over the Website. Current breached 13(d) of the agreement by improperly terminating Mr. Olbermann’s employment.
Olbermann and his lawyers are scheduled to meet with Current TV executives on March 12 at the offices of Antonio Piazza of Mediation Negotiations in San Francisco. Former Vice-President and Current co-founder Al Gore and Current president David Bohrman are expected to attend.
Al Gore defended his sale of Current TV to Al Jazeera in an appearance this morning on Today, saying he was forced to sell because of tough competition from conglomerates. He also denied any hypocrisy in the $500 million sale to Qatar-based Al Jazeera, which is funded in large part with oil money. Gore, a staunch advocate for addressing climate change, told Matt Lauer he understood the criticism, but said Al Jazeera’s climate coverage was far superior to that of networks in the U.S. Gore, who made a reported $100M on the deal, was appearing on the NBC morning show to tout his new book The Future but got some hardball questions from Lauer along the way. Check out the video below:
Here’s episode 17 of our audio podcast Deadline Big Media With David Lieberman. This week, Deadline Executive Editor Lieberman and host David Bloom discuss the impacts of an important tax provision for Hollywood passed as part of this week’s fiscal cliff bill; what happens with Al Jazeera’s purchase of Current TV, especially after Time-Warner Cable dropped the channel; and a look at some of the big trends at next week’s Consumer Electronics Show, which Lieberman will be covering and for which he’ll host a panel on streaming TV.
Current TV was sold to Al Jazeera for about $500 million, two people with knowledge of the deal told Bloomberg. Gore and partners paid about $71 million in 2004 for the channel that became Current TV. Gore, chairman, and Joel Hyatt, co-founder and CEO announced the sale Wednesday without providing terms. The deal gives Qatar-based Al Jazeera access to the biggest U.S. pay-TV carriers but Current’s viewership needs to increase significantly. Current averaged about 42,000 nightly primetime viewers last quarter, according to Horizon Media Inc. SNL Kagan cable analyst Derek Baine said the $500M price “sounds high”. Current TV’s owners had raised a total of $153 million including debt, according to NY-based research firm PrivCo.
Separately, former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm said yesterday on Facebook she will be leaving Current when her contract is up. Granholm, a Democrat who served two terms, said her agreement covered the election through the transition period and she plans to pursue other interests.
All eyes will be on the No. 2 cable company’s response to the channel that Al Jazeera plans to create from what’s left of Current TV: It could determine whether the Qatar-based news company’s surprising deal yesterday to buy Al Gore’s cable channel pays off. It certainly won’t if Al Jazeera America is just available in a little more than 40M homes — which is what Current has without Time Warner Cable‘s 12.1M subscribers. For now, TWC says that it’s “keeping an open mind” about Al Jazeera’s plans. That at least sounds more encouraging than TWC’s statement yesterday that its carriage agreement with Current “has been terminated” and it is “removing the service as quickly as possible” from its systems. The change of ownership was a bridge too far for TWC: It was already considering dropping Current due to its low ratings.
Al Jazeera presents other complications. TWC has a long-term so-called “hunting license” for the news operation’s English-language service — meaning that the cable company has an agreement that enables it to offer Al Jazeera English in some markets but not others. But the relationship has been cool. TWC execs didn’t appreciate the way Al Jazeera English two …
UPDATE, 4 PM: Current TV CEO Joel Hyatt just confirmed the sale in a memo to staffers. “Getting this transaction done was very difficult,” he writes. (Read the network’s official statement after the original break of the story.) Since Time Warner Cable would not consent to the sale “Current will no longer be carried on TWC. This is unfortunate, but I am confident that Al Jazeera America will earn significant additional carriage in the months and years ahead.” Time Warner Cable says that it is “removing the service as quickly as possible.” The loss of the No. 2 cable operator will hurt: Time Warner Cable has 12.2M video subscribers and Current reaches about 59M homes. Others also could follow Time Warner Cable’s lead as they look to prune their often bloated channel lineups. Al Jazeera has fought an uphill battle to win carriage on U.S. cable systems. Operators say it’s too expensive, and that there’s too little interest in the subjects it covers. Fans of the channel say it’s due to unreasonable fears that Al Jazeera’s content will be too controversial and possibly propagandistic. Al Jazeera fought back, and further infuriated cable execs, by live-streaming its English-language programming.
Current TV is considering putting itself up for sale after potential buyers approached, company CEO Joel Hyatt said in an e-mail today. “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.” Current, founded by former Vice President Al Gore, has hired JP Morgan Chase and the Raine Group, according to Reuters. Current could also opt for a strategic partnership rather than an outright sale. Current makes an attractive target because it’s available in about 60 million homes in the United States and 70 million worldwide, according to its website. In addition to Gore and Hyatt, its owners include Comcast, Direct TV and venture capital firms.
The channel co-founded by Al Gore said it is launching the week-in-review show John Fugelsang: So That Happened on Friday at 6 PM. And Fugelsang tweeted today that his as-yet-unnamed nightly primetime series will debut on the channel in November. A regular guest-host on Current TV the past few months, the comedian and former America’s Funniest Home Videos co-host has also appeared on CNN, Fox News Channel’s Fox & Friends and MSNBC’s The Ed Show. Fugelsang is also scheduled to appear with Gore on Current’s coverage of the upcoming presidential debates starting Wednesday. Frank Conniff, who appeared on Mystery Science Theater 3000, will be an on-air contributor to So That Happened as well head writer.
He used to be in the debates and now he’s reporting on them. Al Gore will anchor Current TV’s coverage of the first debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney on October 3 in Denver. The former VP will be joined in the network’s NYC studios by Current TV hosts former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, Cenk Uygur and comedian John Fugelsang. Earlier this summer, Gore, who co-founded Current TV in 2005, anchored the channel’s coverage of the Democratic and Republican conventions.
It doesn’t look like Dish Network is using Charlie Rose, C-SPAN, or Firing Line as models for the program it will air on October 2, the night before the first presidential debate. The satellite company calls its special with Glenn Beck and former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer The War Of The Words. And it introduced the event at a press conference today by inviting boxing MC Michael Buffer to stand in the middle of a mock ring and to deliver his catchphrase — “Let’s get ready to rumble!” — as he brought out what he called the “heavyweights on the right and the left.” They’ll square off in front of a live audience for the broadcast, which will be offered on Dish’s channel 102 and streamed online at www.facebook.com/DISH. It will promote Dish’s pickup yesterday of Beck’s TheBlaze online video content as well as Current TV, where the Spitzer hosts a weeknight talk show: Viewpoint With Eliot Spitzer. Dish CEO Joseph Clayton says that his company ”offers more political programming than anyone else.” TheBlaze is included DISH’s America’s Top 250 package; Current TV is included in America’s Top 200 package. Both also can be purchased a la carte for $5 a month starting later this month.
Al Gore once stood on the podium accepting the Democratic Party’s nominations for both Vice-President and President. This year, the former VP will be up in the skybox reporting on both the DNC and the RNC for Current TV. The channel Gore co-founded made the announcement today:
New York, NY, August 8, 2012 – Vice President Al Gore will be leading Current TV’s coverage of the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. Coverage of the Republican National Convention (RNC) begins August 27th from 7pm – 11pm EST and will continue for all four nights, concluding on August 30th. Coverage of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) begins on September 4th from 7pm – 11pm EST and will conclude on September 6th. Vice President Gore will be joined by former Michigan Governor and “The War Room” host, Jennifer Granholm, former New York Governor and “Viewpoint” host, Eliot Spitzer and “The Young Turks” host, Cenk Uygur. Additionally, California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom will join the panel for the RNC coverage.
Current TV will feature reporting with real-time analysis and detailed coverage of the 2012 conventions. David Shuster and Michael Shure will report from both conventions. Also contributing will be new Current TV hosts Joy Behar and John Fugelsang. “I’m pleased to be participating in Current TV’s impressive line-up throughout the Republican and Democratic National Conventions,” said Vice President Al Gore. “Cenk, Jennifer and Eliot provide the keen insight and spot-on analysis our viewers have come to expect, combined with decades of experience in public service and a deep understanding of politics. I have no doubt that our coverage will be innovative and informative, and I look forward to working with them.”