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TMCNet:  Austin startup beaten out in attempt to acquire Current TV

[January 04, 2013]

Austin startup beaten out in attempt to acquire Current TV

Jan 03, 2013 (Austin American-Statesman - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Current TV has a new owner -- and it's not an Austin startup that had been working to put together a bid for the struggling cable network.

Qatar-based Al Jazeera, which started in 1996 as an Arabic news channel and has grown into a worldwide media network, announced late Wednesday that it had acquired Current and plans to remake it into Al Jazeera America, a 24-hour news channel targeting U.S. viewers.

A purchase price was not disclosed, but a New York Times report estimated it at about $500 million. Al Jazeera executives said the transaction has been approved by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The deal is a blow to Austin-based SocialGood.TV, which had hoped to relocate Current's headquarters to Austin, potentially creating hundreds of jobs. The startup, which has been operating in "stealth mode," is working to create a video engagement platform for social causes.

"We had the feeling not too long after our story broke in the Statesman that Current was holding out for a large acquirer that was willing to pay a premium," SocialGood.TV CEO Stephen Vogelpohl said. "Through our press coverage, a number of interesting opportunities have presented themselves that keep us in the same trajectory -- on a slightly smaller scale." Al Jazeera was almost immediately dealt a setback when, just hours after the deal was finalized, Time Warner Cable pulled Current from its lineup nationwide.

"The network has been sold, and our agreement to carry it has been terminated," Time Warner, the nation's fourth-largest cable provider, said on its website.

"Al Jazeera has been trying to get into the U.S. cable market for a long time now and must not have had an issue with one of the largest hurdles that prevented us from reaching critical mass with investors -- rocky relations with Time Warner Cable," Vogelpohl said.

No other cable or satellite companies have publicly announced plans to dump Current.

Until now, Al Jazeera has had a minimal presence in the United States. Before its latest acquisition, the media network's offerings were available in just 4.7 million homes. Now, that number has jumped to more than 40 million -- even after losing Time Warner Cable's subscribers.

"By acquiring Current TV, Al Jazeera will significantly expand our existing distribution footprint in the U.S.," Al Jazeera director General Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani said in the company's announcement. "I am both exceptionally pleased and very proud that we could take this very important step." Al Jazeera said it intends to flip Current, which was co-founded in 2005 by former Vice President Al Gore, to its new, round-the-clock news format sometime this year. Shows will feature a 50-50 mix of domestic and international headlines.

Al Jazeera plans to double its U.S.-based news staff, giving it a total of approximately 300 employees -- most of them headquartered in New York City. A number of bureaus will be scattered in cities throughout the nation.

Current's existing programming, including left-leaning talk shows hosted by former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, "The View's" Joy Behar and others, will disappear when Al Jazeera America makes its debut.

"Current Media was built based on a few key goals: To give voice to those who are not typically heard; to speak truth to power; to provide independent and diverse points of view; and to tell the stories that no one else is telling," Gore and co-founder Joel Hyatt said in a statement. "Al Jazeera, like Current, believes that facts and truth lead to a better understanding of the world around us." So, with Current no longer on the table, is SocialGood.TV shopping around for an alternative "I wouldn't rule out the possibility of SocialGood.TV acquiring a smaller cable network in the not-too-distant future," Vogelpohl said, "but don't expect to hear about it until after the ink dries." ___ (c)2013 Austin American-Statesman, Texas Visit Austin American-Statesman, Texas at www.statesman.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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