Keith Olbermann + Al Gore: Perfect Together?
The cantankerous former MSNBC commentator has landed on his feet less than a month after an abrupt departure from his broadcast home of eight years. His new position will be at Current TV, the small news and public affairs network whose backers include former Vice President Al Gore and Gore's friend Joel Hyatt. Olbermann's new show will air weeknights on Current TV later this year, according to the network's website.
Olbermann was named chief news officer of the channel. He also got an undisclosed equity stake in Current -- probably because they couldn't afford his multimillion dollar salary. Of course, there was plenty of backslapping with the deal's announcement.
"The Most Exciting Venture in My Career"
"Nothing is more vital to a free America than a free media, and nothing is more vital to my concept of a free media than news produced independently of corporate interference," Olbermann is quoted in a press release as saying. "In Current Media, Al Gore and Joel Hyatt have created the model truth-seeking entity. The opportunity to partner with Al, Joel and [Current CEO] Mark Rosenthal makes this the most exciting venture in my career."
San Francisco-based Current has struggled ever since it was founded by Gore and his partner Joel Hyatt in 2005 as a way to get young viewers interested in public affairs. The strategy has not always worked, even though the company claimed that Current was one of the fastest-growing channels in the history of cable TV. An SEC filing in connection with a planned 2008 $100 million IPO of parent Current Media that was later canceled showed losses of more than $23 million between 2006 and the first three months of 2008.
In 2009, 80 employees were cut in what the website TechCrunch described as a "major bloodbath," which left the company with 300 workers -- down from the 401 workers it had as of March 31, according to the IPO filing. Rosenthal, a former MTV executive, was brought on board to replace Hyatt as CEO in 2009. The network reaches 60 million homes. Update: SNL Kagan estimates that Current TV will generate $31.7 million in advertising revenue this year, up from $21.06 million in 2010.
Burned More Bridges Than General Sherman
The deal with Olbermann is a risk for all involved. Current clearly needs a "star" to boost its viewership. Gore and Hyatt, much like the backers of the defunct Air America radio network, want to prove that liberal media can make a buck just like conservative media outlets. Olbermann has the potential to be the catalyst the network needs, but he's no guarantee. Over the years, he has burned more bridges than General Sherman did in the Civil War.
The question that Current Media has to ask is whether viewers will see the charming and witty Keith or the surly and nasty one who alienated viewers.