Gore, Partners Buy Cable Channel to Start Youth-Oriented Venture
Al Gore wants to make it clear: He’s no Al Franken.
Backed by a roster of media heavyweights, the former vice president said Tuesday that he was jumping into the cable television business with a new channel aimed primarily at young Americans in their 20s.
But the 56-year-old Gore stressed that he was not out to play politics.
“This is not going to be a liberal network, a Democratic network or a political network,” Gore said at a news conference here, where thousands of cable industry executives have gathered this week for their annual convention, sponsored by the National Cable & Telecommunications Assn.
To break into TV, Gore and a group of investors acquired the Newsworld International channel from Vivendi Universal for an undisclosed sum. The network reaches 17 million of the nation’s more than 100 million TV households.
Among those backing Gore’s company, dubbed INdTV Holdings, are Rob Glaser, founder of RealNetworks Inc.; Bill Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems Inc.; Bob Pittman, former co-chief operating officer of AOL Time Warner Inc.; former Warner Bros. executive Warren Lieberfarb; and “West Wing” star Bradley Whitford.
Also throwing in money are venture capital firm Blum Capital and private equity firm Yucaipa Cos., which is headed by supermarket mogul and Democratic fundraiser Ron Burkle.
Gore, who plans to devote 75% of his time to the venture, said the deal had been in the works for more than two years.
Indeed, it has been widely speculated that Gore would launch a TV counterpart to Air America, the liberal radio network featuring comedian Franken and others. Many on the left have been looking for a way to counteract what they see as the conservative agenda of News Corp.'s Fox News Channel, which has knocked Time Warner Inc.'s CNN out of the lead in the news wars.
Instead, the former vice president said he planned to make his channel -- its name to be determined -- into an independent source of information at a time when just a few media giants dominate TV news.
“Having an independent voice is a very important value to safeguard,” he said.
Media industry sources said Gore’s channel would blend unscripted “reality” fare with commentary on public affairs. Several sources said the channel would have a strong point of view and could very well veer to the left, Gore’s assurances notwithstanding.
“He’s giving cameras to college students who will report on issues in their communities, like homelessness,” one executive said. “It’s clearly political.”
Gore himself was vague about how he planned to retool the network’s diet of international news. He said more specifics would be disclosed in the next several months.
Joel Hyatt, a longtime friend of Gore’s and a legal-services entrepreneur who is now on the faculty of Stanford University, will serve as chief executive of the new company. Gore will be INdTV’s chairman.
Cable leaders greeted news of the network with skepticism, saying that it would be tough even for someone of Gore’s stature to capture a big audience with cable and satellite systems already saturated with channels. Industry executives noted that most upstarts don’t break even before they reach about 30 million households.
Achieving that reach, they said, typically requires an investment of about $150 million.
“Just because it’s Gore won’t make it any easier for him to get distribution,” one executive said.
Gore’s past may also complicate his attempt to rise above the political fray. “There are lots of conflicting views of Gore that will factor in,” said Jay Rosen, a New York University journalism professor.
“I think it’ll start off very small,” Rosen said of the new channel. “After that, who knows? A lot depends on how they react to feedback, normal growing pains and chaos.”
Times staff writers Mark Z. Barabak in San Francisco, Lynn Smith in Los Angeles and Elizabeth Jensen in New York contributed to this report.