Over the past few years, Al Jazeera has gained prominence and new audiences in the U.S. and around the world. Thanks to its coverage of the Arab Spring, Al Jazeera became a powerful new outlet for news from the Middle East and other parts of the world. Even so, it had yet to reach cable audiences due to a reluctance on the part of big cable distributors to carry the network. That could change soon, thanks to a deal through which it would acquire Current TV — and more importantly, Current’s distribution network.
The New York Times reports that Qatar-financed news organization Al Jazeera is close to a deal for Current, which would make it available to a majority of cable viewers around the country. Current might not have gotten high ratings, but it had distribution, thanks to deals it had struck with several of the major cable companies. The network is available in 60 million out of about 100 million U.S. homes with cable, satellite, or IPTV service.
Al Jazeera, meanwhile, has had a difficult time getting distributors to add its new network to their lineups. Despite years of discussions with cable companies around the country, the international news agency is virtually non-existent in U.S. homes. While Al Jazeera has aggressively rolled out an online presence and video apps across multiple mobile phones, tablets, and connected streaming boxes, until now it has been unable to get traditional pay TV distribution. Outside of markets like New York and Washington, D.C., it simply hasn’t been available to cable viewers.
The solution? Acquire Current and use its existing distribution network instead.
According to the New York Times, after the purchase, Al Jazeera would likely rebrand the network and bring a new lineup of its own content in Current’s place. “Current’s schedule of shows will most likely be dissolved in the spring,” it reported, and would be replaced with programming produced both in the U.S. and internationally.
While that means Al Jazeera will finally have an outlet with regular TV viewers, it also likely means the end of the line for Current, which launched in 2005 as an alternative new documentary and news network. While it gained headlines after hiring Keith Olbermann and other left-leaning pundits for news talk programs, it wasn’t able to get the ratings required to keep it a viable alternative to CNN, MSNBC, or the other 24-hour news networks.
Update: The deal has been confirmed. Statement from Al Gore and Joel Hyatt:
“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,” Gore and Hyatt said.
“Al-Jazeera has the same goals and, like Current, believes that facts and truth lead to a better understanding of the world around us.”
Also, Al Jazeera won’t be distributed to all 60 million of those cable households that Current had deals for. Already, Time Warner Cable has said that it won’t no longer carry Current in the wake of the deal being done.
Update 2: Reports are coming in that Time Warner Cable has already removed Current TV: