Cenk Uygur, the host of the Current TV political talk show “The Young Turks,” is losing his cable news and opinion show after less than two years on the air.
But the progressive-leaning commentator is betting he can continue to build his following – and make money – with his suite of shows that run online.
“The Young Turks,” which has run on Current since late 2011, has its final telecast Thursday as the Qatar-based Al Jazeera, which bought the struggling Current in January, prepares to launch a more straight-ahead news channel to capture a broader American audience.
That may seem like a career setback for Uygur, who has been producing a Web version of his show in addition to the Current telecast, but Uygur says he’s “relieved” to be moving on and will now focus to his website, TYT Network, which produces online talk shows on topics such as politics and pop culture.
“I was exhausted from doing the two shows at once,” he said. “The future is overwhelmingly online, and I’m excited to turn my energies there.”
Uygur brought “The Young Turks” to Current TV after a brief stint at MSNBC. The show’s ratings for Current were strong compared with other programs on the channel, but that’s not saying much, Uygur said.
After the acquisition of Current, he had brief talks with the network about whether there would be a place for him at the soon-to-debut Al Jazeera America, he said, but both sides agreed that the host, known for political rants, would not fit well with the company’s plans to build a news source with a more neutral tone.
Current TV, founded by Al Gore, has struggled to generate ratings that could compete with other cable news outlets. Other setbacks included a very public falling out with onetime host Keith Olbermann and being dropped by Time Warner Cable after it was sold.
Current made sense as a home for Uygur, who takes a liberal view on many issues but reserves some of his fiercest criticism for the Obama administration. He recently took the president to task for his handling of the controversy surrounding Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked information about government surveillance programs to the press.
The Turkish American Uygur, 43, who got his start with a Sirius satellite radio show in 2002, began doing online video in 2005. Now TYT Network has multiple different talk shows, including “The Young Turks,” “TYT Comedy” and “Nerd Alert.”
The company has started its push to get onto more devices and reach more viewers. It recently launched an application for Roku, a gadget that allows viewers to stream online video on television sets.
It is also introducing apps for people to watch through devices that use the Android and iOS operating systems. TYT Network is also having meetings with online video companies like Hulu and Blip Networks as Uygur continues to look for potential TV deals.
Uygur says these efforts reflect how the television industry had changed from an era when people had only one way to watch programming – through a TV set. “It’s no longer a limited tool the audience can choose from," he said. "It’s an unlimited ocean and you better build as many lifeboats as you can.”
While he has amassed a substantial viewership through his YouTube channels and has drawn 4,000 subscribers who pay at least $10 a month, the company is still trying to figure out how to make more money from news video distributed through the Web.
The site’s yearly revenue has grown to more than $3 million, compared with about $1 million in 2010. About a third of the revenue comes from subscriptions, and the rest comes from YouTube ads. He has 30 employees currently working from Current TV’s Culver City studios and is moving into a new space next month.
“The audience has already moved to online,” he said. “We got 55 million views on the network last month and 37 million on the main show. That pretty much beats everyone on cable news with the exception of a couple of Fox News shows.”
Still, Uygur recognizes that he has some major challenges ahead of him. The company recently reached a cumulative 1 billion views, but that hasn’t quite resulted in a flood of advertising dollars. The amount of revenue it generates from each viewer remains low.
“Clearly the No. 1 challenge is monetization,” he said. “Viewership numbers are all headed in the right direction. If we can get the cash flow to catch up to the views, then we can expand and add fuel to the fire.”
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