Current TV lays off 80 employees

Cable net is shifting to a more traditional content strategy

Current TV, the cable channel founded by former Vice President Al Gore, has begun overhauling its programming model, a process that began Wednesday with the elimination of 80 full-time staff positions.

Originally positioned as a showcase for short-form, user-generated content, Current is shifting toward a more traditional content strategy, with plans to run 30- and 60-minute programs, many of which will be acquisitions.

While Current will continue to generate some in-house content, most of the cuts were made at the channel's Los Angeles-based production and programming facilities. Pink slips were also handed out in Current's New York, San Francisco and London offices.

Per recent estimates, user-generated content accounts for some 30% of Current's programming. "We are as keen as ever on participatory media," said chief operating officer Joanna Drake Earl, adding that the channel is likely to program more themed compilation shows rather than run blocks of standalone viewer submissions.

The move comes just months after former MTV president and chief operating officer Mark Rosenthal was named CEO of Current Media. A charter member of Current's board of directors, Rosenthal in July replaced founding CEO Joel Hyatt.

In a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, Current said the reorganization "was not the result of a need to cut costs." Rather, the company has elected to reallocate its resources, placing greater emphasis on licensing and acquisitions.

It is unclear how the move to carry long-form programming will affect Current's advertising model, although Earl said she anticipates a continued upswing in VCAM spots, or viewer-created ad messages.

"That's been a fantastic success for us," Earl said, adding that Current viewers preferred the VCAM spots by a 9-1 margin. "Not only are the ads getting more effective, but our partners are enjoying higher brand recall and greater intent-to-purchase. ... We would love to predominately run VCAMs."

Now in 55 million U.S. households, Current does not sell inventory against ratings guarantees. Earl said the channel will eventually report Nielsen deliveries, but chose not to speculate when that might happen.

In April, Current cancelled its $100 million IPO, citing unfavorable market conditions. In its final Securities Exchange Commission filing, Current reported it took in just $2.51 million in ad sales revenue in Q1 2008. Total revenue for the period was $14.5 million.

Outside the business pages, Current made headlines in March when two of its reporters were detained by the North Korean military after illegally crossing into the country from China. In July, former President Bill Clinton successfully negotiated the release of Laura Ling and Euna Lee.