Al Jazeera bought Current TV, the failed cable channel started by Al Gore and an army of optimists. Likely the Qatar-headquartered media company paid nothing for the U.S.-based one. It may have absorbed some liabilities, but nothing more. Current TV has no value.
Reuters reported that the price paid in the transaction was $500 million. That almost certainly is not true. During its most highly rated hours, Current TV is lucky to have 20,000 or 30,000 viewers.
Cable TV networks use a trick when promoting themselves. Their managements discuss how many households could watch their programs. Current TV is available on cable systems that reach 60 million Americans. That does not mean a single one of those households has a television tuned to Current TV. Current TV’s attempt to be viable was badly damaged again recently as Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) announced it would no longer carry the channel.
Al Jazeera hopes to turn Current TV into its U.S. channel. That means that all the U.S. company’s branding and programming will be scuttled. Al Jazeera has to believe, for some reason, that there will be a demand for its content in an environment in which there are dozens of small cable new channels, base on modest distribution, and larger ones such as MSNBC, News Corp.’s (NASDAQ: NWSA) Fox Channel and Time Warner Inc.’s (NYSE: TWX) CNN. If there is some special reason to watch Al Jazeera’s U.S. channel, it will be lost on almost every viewer of news in America.
Al Jazeera obviously believes it can succeed where such Current TV stars as Elliott Spitzer and former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm have failed. Tens of thousands of viewers for a cable show is a sign that the show is not viable.
Al Jazeera will inherit a worthless asset with Current TV. No one will even watch the transition in programming that the Qatar company plans.
Douglas A. McIntyre