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Why Al Gore Will Make $100 Million in the Sale of Current TV to Al Jazeera (Analysis)

Al Gore, Current TV

The splashy deal may be the only way for the Qatar-backed network to gain a foothold in the U.S.

This story first appeared in the Jan. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Al Gore never got to be president, but he’s certainly become very rich.

The Current co-founder stands to earn about $100 million from the sale of the struggling cable network to Al Jazeera, the news organization backed by the royal family of Qatar.

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Gore, who launched Current in 2005 with businessman Joel Hyatt, has a 20 percent stake in the channel, which sold Jan. 2 for what sources say was $500 million. Most analysts believe the 16-year-old Al Jazeera overpaid for the network, which reached about 60 million homes until Time Warner Cable withdrew its 9 million subscribers upon news of the sale.

Al Jazeera America, as the channel will be known, will be based in New York and Doha, Qatar, with about 60 percent of its content originating in the U.S. and a staff of about 300 (twice as many as Current).

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Al Jazeera director general Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani says the channel will relaunch this year in about 40 million homes, though big challenges remain. Other cable and satellite operators are said to be exploring options to drop the low- rated channel, whose new owner has endured allegations of anti-American bias. And SNL Kagan analyst Derek Baine predicts that Al Jazeera America will need to drop its license fees to zero in order to “gain widespread support for carrying the channel in the U.S.” (Current, despite luring just 40,000 viewers to some of its primetime fare, was receiving between 10 and 11 cents per subscriber per month, thanks in part to Gore’s lobbying when the network launched.)

The new owners also must contend with a $70 million lawsuit filed in April by former star anchor Keith Olbermann, who was fired in the middle of a five-year contract. Sources say a March mediation date is scheduled in the heated case. The overall investment could cost Al Jazeera’s owners hundreds of millions of dollars but, says Baine, “maybe this is the only way for Al Jazeera America to gain a foothold in the U.S.”