Al Jazeera buys Current TV, set to launch US-based news channel

Editor | 03-01-2013

In a move that has already shaken up the US TV sector, and as part of a strategy to launch a US-based news channel, Al Jazeera Media Network has acquired Current TV.

The deal with the US cable TV channel, co-owned by former US Vice-President Al Gore and which claims to reach 60 million American households, could be worth as much as half a billion dollars, but more significantly it represents a beachhead into a market to which the Qatar broadcast giant has long wanted to gain access.

The deal brings Al Jazeera into closer competition with American news channels like CNN, MSNBC and Fox as it plans to create Al Jazeera America, a US-based news channel. Scheduled to begin broadcasting in 2013, the new US-based news channel will run separately from the existing Al Jazeera English service, and will provide both domestic and international news for American audiences.

Currently Al Jazeera can be seen in more than 260 million homes in 130 countries, but has had limited access to US markets. With ownership of Current TV, Al Jazeera has, at a stroke, boosted its reach by almost an order of magnitude from 4.7 million to 40 million US households. In addition to the existing news bureaux in New York, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, Miami and Chicago, Al Jazeera will now open additional bureaus in key locations across the US, doubling its US-based staff to more than 300 employees.

"For many years, we understood that we could make a positive contribution to the news and information available in and about the United States, and what we are announcing today will help us achieve that goal," commented Al Jazeera director general Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani. "By acquiring Current TV, Al Jazeera will significantly expand our existing distribution footprint in the US, as well as increase our newsgathering and reporting efforts in America."

Commenting on the sale of the seven-year-old channel which in recent times had struggled with falling ratings leading to the closure of its UK operations in March 2012, Gore and partner Joel Hyatt said: "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 has the same goals and, like Current, believes that facts and truth lead to a better understanding of the world around us."

Such optimism is not being shared among the US TV industry. As a result of the acquisition, Time Warner Cable, which offers Current TV in New York and Los Angeles, has dropped the channel from its schedules with immediate effect. A TWC spokesperson told Huffington Post that "our agreement with Current will be terminated and we will no longer be carrying the channel."