Al Gore’s Current TV Lays Off 80 Staff, Changes Direction


In a major restructuring, cable channel Current TV–co-founded by Al Gore and made hugely famous earlier this year when reporters Laura Ling and Euna Lee were held then released by the North Korean government thanks to intervention by Bill Clinton and Steve Bing’s private jet–has laid off 80 staff members, about 25% of its staff.

Most of the axed were based in the Los Angeles office, affecting in-house production and striking a yet another blow to the city’s already suffering entertainment industry. The original programs “Current Tonight,” “Current Takeover” and “Current Exposed” have been canceled and David Neumann, the head of programming was fired. About 300 employees total remain  in San Francisco, New York, the now much smaller LA office and the international offices in London and Milan.

The pioneering Emmy-Award winning channel was originally conceived  by Gore and businessman Joe Hyatt as a peer-to-peer news and information network with one-third of the on-air broadcast featuring viewer created content (VC2) and geared to 18-34 years olds. During the 2004 campaign, Gore envisioned a news network with no political leanings

that would help change the tide of “consolidation and conglomeratization” of the media by leading the change to “democratization.”

Now that videophones and Flip cameras are in almost everyone’s pocket, most local news channels–as well as the cable news networks–allow viewers to email or upload raw footage and short reports. The tide of consolidation hasn’t turned, but with YouTube and Vimeo, democratization has happened.  If it exists, if it happened, or if you think it’s a conspiracy, it’s been videotaped.

Current TV’s new CEO Mark Rosenthal, who replaced Hyatt, is now revamping Current to a more traditional model of 30-minute and hour-long programs, much of it to be acquired, reports Variety.

Current said it will now move money into creating departments focused on program development, licensing and acquisitions, talent management, research, marketing, affiliate relations and advertising sales. In other words, start operating like a more traditional network.

Short-form videos will continue to be a part of the network’s lineup, but now as part of regularly scheduled programs.

Rosenthal, the man behind the upheaval, is the former COO and president of MTV, which made the same sort of changes in the mid-1990s, shifting from music videos to longer-form programming. The logic is that original, longer form programming attracts more advertising dollars.  Current TV is available in over 59 million homes in the US, UK, Ireland and Italy thanks to cable and satellite.

In January, 2009 Current TVs parent company Current Media announced plans to launch an IPO on NASDAQ, but in April citing

current market conditions

the company said it was not going forward with those plans, adding that no securities had been sold.

No word  yet on the changes from Current Media chairman Al Gore, but, the channel’s internt portal reports that Current Media’s COO, Joanna Drake Earl said that this year is set to be Current’s most profitable year since its launch. No wonder: A year ago to the day, Current fired  60 employees as a cost cutting measure.

7 Responses to "Al Gore’s Current TV Lays Off 80 Staff, Changes Direction"
Millineryman | Thursday November 12, 2009 09:15 am 1

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Teddy Partridge | Thursday November 12, 2009 09:38 am 2

Layoffs are sad, especially in such a small and presumably tight-knit organization. Best wishes to those set loose.

Phoenix Woman | Thursday November 12, 2009 11:07 am 3

The deal is that unless it’s porn, people won’t pay to watch scratchy cellphone video when they can get it for free on YouTube and Hulu. The smart thing would be to keep upping the production values and offer things the average home video shooter just can’t.

Kelly Canfield | Thursday November 12, 2009 06:04 pm 4
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 3

Agree. It’s gotta be rough, particularly when idiots like me can opine on an issue with “relative” production values pretty easily.

Back in the primary days I mad “Barbie vs. Iran & John McCain” in about 2 hours.

What can I say? I was unemployed and had 2 hours to kill. Heh.

Teddy Partridge | Thursday November 12, 2009 06:07 pm 5
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 4

You’re dangerous to the national discourse.

Kelly Canfield | Thursday November 12, 2009 06:32 pm 6
In response to Teddy Partridge @ 5

That’s my function. *g*

puppethead | Thursday November 12, 2009 08:03 pm 7

I’ve tried watching Current TV, and it just wasn’t structured in a way that could hold my attention. The content was better-suited for a method of distribution where you can pick and choose the stories to watch, maybe like through iTunes or on Hulu. I feel the same way about short films (I love getting those off iTunes and such). If I’m going to watch TV, I’d rather have something I could invest a longer time in.

The layoffs are unfortunate, but I don’t think Current TV was working. Broadcast where you can’t change shows on demand seems better-suited to longer form content.

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