Current TV (CTV) is a satellite television channel that commenced operations on August 1, 2005. It was co-founded by former Vice President Al Gore and former Democratic National Committee finance chairman Joel Hyatt, a member of the Brookings Institution‘s board of trustees. When Gore and Hyatt made their first public announcement of their new enterprise, they were accompanied by Sergey Brin, the billionaire co-founder of Google. According to Gore, CTV’s objective was to attract a large audience in the 18-to-34 age bracket. Toward that end, Gore and Hyatt hired Anne Kallin Zehren, the publisher who launched the successful People magazine spinoff Teen People, as CTV’s head of sales and marketing.
CTV’s earliest roots can be traced back to May 2004, when INdTV Holdings, a company co-founded by Gore and Hyatt, purchased the cable channel NewsWorld International (for approximately $70 million) from the French conglomerate Vivendi Universal and relaunched it that summer as INdTV. Among INdTV’s largest investors were Real Networks Inc. chairman Rob Glaser; Sun Microsystems co-founder and former executive Bill Joy, whose company contributed heavily to the Clinton-Gore presidential ticket; former AOL/Time Warner executive Bob Pittman, who helped create Viacom‘s cable music channel MTV; former Warner Brothers executive Warren Lieberfarb; the venture capital firm Blum Capital; and the private equity firm Yucaipa Cos., headed by supermarket mogul and Democratic fundraiser Ron Burkle.
In April 2005 Gore and Hyatt changed INdTV’s name to Current TV, and they formally launched their new entity four months later. A second Current TV network was initiated in the United Kingdom and Ireland in March 2007; a third was opened in Italy in February 2008; and a fourth was established in South Africa in May 2010.
Current TV’s advisory board initially included Orville Schell (dean of the UC Berkeley Journalism School) and Steve Jobs, the late co-founder and CEO of Apple Computer (on whose board Al Gore served).
In its early years, CTV created approximately half of its own programs. The rest of its airtime was filled by brief features, or “pods,” created and donated by its viewers, using home video cameras and software available at the Current TV website. Those productions, however, were frequently of low quality from a technical standpoint and proved to be impractical for a television format.
In 2007 Gore and Hyatt tried to sell CTV for a $500 million price tag but were unable to find any buyers. An initial public offering for Current TV failed to materialize as well. In 2009 the network reorganized itself, with board member Mark Rosenthal replacing Hyatt as CEO, and Hyatt becoming a vice president. Rosenthal promptly trimmed CTV’s staff, eliminated the “pods” telecasts, and shifted the network’s programming emphasis to more traditional shows and documentaries.
CTV’s program lineup today includes such productions as the following:
* The Young Turks with Cenk Uygur is a nightly program featuring progressive commentary about politics and pop culture.
* The War Room, starring former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, features in-studio commentary by political insiders, campaign veterans, and newsmakers.
* Vanguard is a documentary series that examines global issues of social significance.
* Bar Karma, set at a “mystical watering hole at the edge of the universe,” is “the world’s first community-developed television series,” letting viewers inform the outcome of each episode before it airs.
* Kill It, Cook It, Eat It is a series where “a diverse group of participants” hunt and ultimately consume their chosen prey.
* Hooked on Danger features three longline fishermen and their crews, engaged in the dangerous pursuit of monster-sized tuna and swordfish off the coast of Australia.
* Deadliest Journeys explores the world’s most menacing roads, skies, and waterways, “where travelers risk it all to reach their destinations.”
* SWAT: Miami Dade follows the police officers of Miami-Dade’s Special Response Team as they pursue potentially deadly criminal suspects.
* The Beat is a documentary series about a police squad in Vancouver, British Columbia.
* Cooking in the Danger Zone centers around journalist Stefan Gates’ worldwide odyssey to sample some of the bizarre and exotic foods that people eat in various parts of the globe.
* Long Way Round chronicles the adventures of movie actor Ewan McGregor and his best friend Charley Boorman, who travel by motorcycle from London, eastward across Europe, Asia, and North America.
CTV made news headlines in March 2009, when two of its female American journalists were detained by the North Korean military after they had allegedly crossed from China into North Korea. In June, a North Korean court convicted the two women of illegal border entry, a “grave crime,” and sentenced them to twelve years of hard labor. On August 4, 2009, North Korean president Kim Jong Il pardoned the women and released them, through the diplomatic intercession of former U.S. president Bill Clinton.
For additional information on CTV, click here.