Al Jazeera is putting the final touches on a deal to take over Current TV, the low-rated cable channel that was founded by Al Gore and his business partners seven years ago.
If the deal is completed, Current will provide the pan-Arab news giant with something it has sought for years: a pathway into American living rooms. Current is available in about 60 million of the 100 million homes in the United States with cable or satellite service.
Rather than simply use Current to distribute its English-language channel, called Al Jazeera English and based in Doha, Qatar, Al Jazeera will create a new channel based in New York, according to people with knowledge of the deal negotiations. The channel may be called Al Jazeera America. Roughly 60 percent of the programming will be produced in the United States, while the remaining 40 percent will come from Al Jazeera English.
Al Jazeera may absorb some Current TV staff members, according to the people, who insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. But Current’s schedule of shows will most likely be dissolved in the spring.
The plan will bring Al Jazeera, which is financed by the government of Qatar, into closer competition with CNN and other news channels in the United States.
To date, the country’s cable and satellite distributors have been reluctant to carry Al Jazeera English. It is available in just a handful of cities, including New York and Washington. To change that, Al Jazeera has lobbied distributors, called for a letter-writing campaign by supporters and promoted its widely praised coverage of the Arab Spring.
Acquiring Current TV, and thus its distribution deals across the country, would solve this dilemma for Al Jazeera, at least partially.
Current is hard to find on many cable lineups, and some analysts say it’s at risk of being dropped by some companies because of low ratings, but it would give Al Jazeera a foothold on the country’s cable and satellite service lineups. Then Al Jazeera could revamp the channel and promote it as a new American-based news source.
Representatives for Current TV and Al Jazeera did not immediately respond to requests for comment. There was no immediate word about the sale price.
Current was conceived in 2005 after Mr. Gore and another co-founder, Joel Hyatt, bought the small cable news channel Newsworld International. Current’s owners, along with Mr. Gore and Mr. Hyatt, include several venture capital firms and two major distributors, Comcast and DirecTV.
After several years in obscurity showing viewer-submitted videos and documentaries, Current tacked to the left in 2011 with the hiring of MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann. A year later, Mr. Olbermann was fired, but a liberal minded channel made in his image remained. The channel now simulcasts liberal radio shows in the morning and features news-talk shows in the evening by Joy Behar, Eliot Spitzer, Jennifer Granholm and others.
None of the shows have drawn significant audiences. On a typical night in 2012, about 42,000 people were watching the channel, according to Nielsen. Mr. Spitzer quipped to a reporter from Mediabistro last month, “Nobody’s watching, but I’m having a great time.”