April 5, 2005
SAN FRANCISCO - Al Gore has a plan for luring the Internet generation back to television: make it more participatory by having viewers contribute their own video.
The former vice president and longtime Internet champion joined investors Monday to announce the creation of Current, a cable TV channel that will target younger viewers with a blend of news, culture and viewer-produced video.
Gore will serve as chairman of the board of the new venture, which will be based in San Francisco.
He and Joel Hyatt, the founder of Hyatt Legal Services who will serve as Current's chief executive, assembled an investment team that paid $70 million last year to acquire the Newsworld International channel from Vivendi International.
The channel, to launch Aug. 1, will remain privately financed and initially will be available in 19 million cable-subscriber homes.
The channel will try to engage viewers ages 18 to 34 using the Web's signature blend of interactivity and populism, Gore and Hyatt explained.
Gore, dressed in a charcoal gray suit and no tie, stood on stage with Current's creative team - a multicultural group of TV producers the same age as his children.
He said the venture was dedicated to giving young people a voice.
"We're about empowering this generation ... to engage in the dialogue of democracy and tell the story of what's going on in their lives in the dominant media of our time," said the 57-year-old Gore.
Central to their strategy is inviting Current's viewers to supply their own video content and helping them produce it using editing tools that Current will make available on its Web site.
That video eventually will comprise more than half the programming seen on the channel.
The rest will be more traditional shows developed under the direction of David Neuman, Current's president of programming, whose resume includes stints at CNN and Walt Disney Television. The channel also has established a partnership with the Google search engine, which will provide twice-an-hour updates on viewers' top Internet searches.
Sergey Brin, the 31-year-old co-founder of Google, praised the channel as an effective way to distribute video in a way that frees it from the limited bandwidth and other technological challenges that has kept it from being widely available on the Web.
"The one remaining area where it's been hard as both a contributor and as viewer of user-driven content is video," Brin said. "Given that Current has taken on this challenge ... I think this could be a really fantastic experience. I'm looking forward to a much greater breadth of TV viewing."
A few blocks away, at the annual convention of the National Cable Television Association, Google co-founder Larry Page said Google Inc. itself would soon test a tool to search personal video submissions. A spokesman said details of the project would be announced in the next several days.
Gore said his interest in the venture stemmed from a frustration that television, because of the high cost of cameras, studios and production, had long been a "one-way" medium dominated by large media companies. Innovations in digital video have put those tools in the hands of young people, he said.
"The $100,000 television camera has become a $3,000 high-definition camera, and the $250,000 editing console has become a $1,000 Apple computer program," Gore said. "The five-person crew can be one young woman in her twenties with something the size of a handbag."
Gore, who narrowly lost the 2000 presidential election to George W. Bush, has publicly complained about the number of conservative voices dominating the airwaves.
Yet he insisted that Current will have no political agenda.
"We have no intention of being a Democratic channel, a liberal channel or the TV version of Air America," Gore said, referring to the fledgling liberal radio network. "It is not in any way an ideological, much less partisan point of view in any respect. It will have the point of view of the young generation."
In its first contest judging video submissions to the channel, Current awarded a $15,000 prize to three filmmakers who produced a funny segment poking fun at predictable and often misleading presidential campaign ads.