Gore: TV power to the people


UPDATED 5:35 p.m. PT Nov. 19, 2007

In almost equal measure, Al Gore talked up the rosy outlook for his two-year-old cable news network Current TV and reiterated his bleak vision of the environment during a 40-minute session Monday with International TV Academy members in New York.

The former vice president told the 200 TV execs from the U.S. and abroad that we're all facing "a planetary emergency" and that the world has never seen anything like it.

He also volunteered that he would be meeting with President Bush next week to discuss how to move beyond partisan politics to tackle the problem.

Gore addressed the lunchtime gathering hours before receiving the International Academy's Founders Award for his efforts in setting up the Current TV cable news operation. The Monday gala at the Hilton also featured awards to foreign TV programs in various categories as well as the other key individual honor, the Directorate Award, to French broadcaster Patrick Le Lay.

In his prepared remarks, Gore hailed the successes of his channel so far in attracting younger demos, calling it arguably the fastest growing cabler in the country. Current will reach 57 million homes nationwide by next week and will be available in a handful of foreign territories shortly.

He put special emphasis on the popularity of viewer-generated content, and even viewer-generated ads, which make up some 30% of screen time on the service.

"We want to democratize the medium of TV," Gore said.

Warming to his theme, the recent Nobel Prize winner made the case that successive technologies, from the printing press to the Internet, have been the key impetus for democratization.

Taking a swipe at the U.S. media congloms, he said that TV in the last few years has become dominated by fewer and fewer studios, thus narrowing the control of, and the funnel for, news.

Current TV, he argued, has an architecture that invites interactivity and participatory connections. (He said he did not agree with FCC commissioner Kevin Martin on plans to further loosen media cross-ownership rules.)

As for its openness, Gore pointed out that the cabler boasts a free online training program for learning how to make, download and disseminate TV programs, though he didn't specify how many have signed up for the virtual course.

Gore's most passionate remarks, however, came in the unscripted Q&A in which he stressed that the climate crisis is the No. 1 challenge facing the world.

"The melting of the Arctic ice cap, at the current rate -- well, it could be gone in 22 years, or even in as few as seven," he said.

He reckoned that by inauguration day -- Jan. 20, 2009 -- whoever is president will be confronted with climate change as "his or her No. 1 priority."

Without naming the culprit he had in mind, Gore indicted one particular news interviewer, who Gore said had put some 2,000 questions to candidates over the last year or so, but not a single one had been about global warming.

Having met with scientists recently in Boulder, Colo., to discuss the latest evidence on environmental degradation, Gore pointed out that he went back to his hotel room, only to hear the latest news bulletin on the TV networks: "Britney Spears has just lost custody of her two children."

"Oh, please!" he told the assembled.