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Al-Jazeera buys struggling US cable channel, launches push into America

The international broadcaster has bought Current TV in a deal aimed at allowing it to expand in the US market.

File photo, employee passes by news channel logo of in Doha, Qatar.
File photo, employee passes by news channel logo of in Doha, Qatar.
Image: KAMRAN JEBREILI/AP/Press Association Images

THE PAN-ARAB news giant Al-Jazeera bought Current TV, a struggling US cable channel, Wednesday in a deal aimed at giving the Qatar-based broadcaster the scope to challenge major American TV networks.

Current, co-founded by former US vice president Al Gore, announced the sale in a statement that was later confirmed by Al-Jazeera. The acquisition will allow the latter to reach millions more US homes than it does at present.

The financial terms of the deal were not immediately disclosed, but Forbes reported that a possible value of $400 million could net Gore $100 million.

Push for broader visibility

The purchase of Current will coincide with Al-Jazeera launching a US-based channel, heralding a push for vastly broader visibility in American homes, on the back of strong US use of its existing English service on the Internet.

And it will put the broadcaster, which is financed by the Qatari government, into closer competition with CNN and other US news channels, as Al-Jazeera is offered only by a handful of American cable and satellite distributors.

Although Current TV has been struggling for ratings, it nonetheless reaches 60 million American households, according to its own figures.

“We are proud and pleased that Al-Jazeera, the award-winning international news organisation, has bought Current TV,” said Gore, the San Francisco-based channel’s chairman, and Joel Hyatt, co-founder and CEO, in a statement.

Al-Jazeera, in a separate statement, said its new channel would be based in New York and will provide both domestic and foreign news for American viewers when it is launched this year, and increase its existing US staffing levels to more than 300.

Broadcaster to open additional US bureaus

In addition to existing Al-Jazeera news bureaus in New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Miami and Chicago, Al-Jazeera will open additional bureaus in key locations across the United States, the company said.

“By acquiring Current TV, Al-Jazeera will significantly expand our existing distribution footprint in the US, as well as increase our newsgathering and reporting,” said Al-Jazeera Director General Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani.

Al Jazeera’s decision to create a US-based news channel was based in part on the fact that Americans have already shown a great demand for its news and programs, the company said.

“Almost 40 percent of all online viewing of Al-Jazeera English comes from the United States,” it added in the statement.

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‘Al-Jazeera America’

The New York Times reported that Al-Jazeera was expected to name the new channel “Al-Jazeera America,” instead of using its existing English-language vehicle Al-Jazeera English, capitalizing on Current’s US audience reach.

Hyatt told staff in an email that he and Gore would serve on the advisory board of Al-Jazeera America. “We look forward to helping build an important news network,” Hyatt added, according to the Times report.

Current Media, founded in 2005, operates Current TV, and reaches households in Britain, as well as the United States. It also operates a youth-focused website, where users can submit their own content.

The channel has won two Emmy Awards and other honors. It reaches 71 million households worldwide.

But The Times said a sale was considered because of low ratings, with an average of just 42,000 people watching Current TV last year.

- © AFP, 2012

Read: Al Jazeera closes Beijing bureau after reporter expelled from China

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