Critics Question Current's Focus7/22/2005 8:00 PM Eastern
Beverly Hills, Calif. — The nation's TV writers last week got their first look at Current, the young adult-targeted news network from former Vice President Al Gore and entrepreneur Joel Hyatt, and many were left with more questions than answers.
The most-asked question posed by pundits after the July 18 session at the Television Critics Association tour in Beverly Hills: Is anyone in my town going to be able to watch Current on cable?
Current executives said the network, which will rely on viewer video contributions for up to one-fourth of its content, is slated to launch Aug. 1 before 20 million homes, 14 million of which will come via DirecTV Inc.'s top tier. Time Warner Cable, which carries the network's predecessor, Newsworld International, has committed to position the network on its digital-basic tier, while Comcast Corp. will offer it in select markets.
The network's news, announced during the TCA gathering but outside of the cable portion of the tour, centered on its talent: producer, reporter and host Gotham Chopra, previously an anchor with Channel One, the commercially supported news service marketed to schools; producer-reporter Laura Ling, also a Channel One veteran and a contributing producer to MTV: Music Television; writer-anchor Conor Knighton, a Yale University graduate and improvisational comedy performer; host Shauntay Hinton, a contributing lifestyle reporter to production companies, Fox Sports and Lifetime Television; and producer Rawley Valverde, another Channel One veteran and Fox Television reporter/producer in Las Vegas.
The network will also feature host Amaya Brecher of The Real World: Hawaii fame; host-anchor Kinga Phillips, an actress and cable segment host; producer-host-reporter Justin Gunn, a reporter and formerly host of the Fox reality series Love Cruise; host-producers Max Lugavere and Jason Silva, who gained the net's attention by submitting a short independent film; and host Johnny Bell, an northern California surfer, who landed his first TV job.
Given the plethora of fresh faces and viewer-contributed materials, critics asked who was going to edit and oversee the accuracy of information on the network. Executives said that much of the content will come from network partner Google and be based on popular Internet searches.
In keeping with the Internet-content theme, TV segments will bear a graphic similar to a computer download progress bar to signify the time remaining.
Viewers are expected to find out when segments will air by searching the channel's Web site (www.current.tv). Twenty-five percent of the content will be classified as news; 30%, information; 20%, social; 20%, escape; and 5%, originals, network executives said.
Current will pay amateur producers a flat fee of $250 to $1,000 for their films, according to Hyatt. Current, in turn, will retain the rights to that content.
Viewer-made films will be available on the Internet first, and voted onto the air by Web surfers, noted Gore. Since it will be viewed there, subjected to blogging, et. al., the content will probably be more scrutinized than most traditional network fare, he explained.
Programming president David Neuman added the network intends to fact-check and verify content. Some content will be labeled as journalism and other content will just be “cool, interesting video.”
The TV writers expressed concern about the youthful focus at the network, with one asking if, like the classic boy band Menudo, workers would be axed and replaced at age 34.
Executives laughed that one off, with Neuman noting he's starting as an executive past the demo age.
Asked about Current's advertising model, executives said they are abandoning traditional spots in favor of segment sponsorship. A Current programming hour will be broken into three- to seven-minute themed “pods,” with advertising sold against the pod on an annual basis. Although Gore said the pods are “almost sold out,” executives declined to identify any charter advertisers.
Executives also said advertisers are asking for longer, three-minute spots, adding they had been sucessfully tested online. Again, the company declined to identify any of those participants.
Gore found himself reassuring critics on the issue of the network's point of view, and its ability to keep its current cable affiliations given Time Warner Cable's recent successful challenge of AMC's contracts based on its move away from its former “classic” film programming.
Gore stressed Current would not be a younger, Democratic version of Fox News Channel.
“The network will speak for itself,” he said.
The NWI carriage agreements have been secured for the transition to Current, he added.
As for negotiations for new affiliations, Gore said he is having “great conversations and discussions. We're very happy.” Executives believe the network can reach its goal of 50 million households in five years.