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Al Gore’s Current is in active conversations about a potential sale or something less drastic including a strategic partnership or an investment in the company.
The network – which rebranded itself as a progressive cable news network last year when it hired Keith Olbermann to bring his successsful MSNBC show Countdown to the network – already has been approached by three companies this year, said a Current spokesperson, who would not disclose which media companies expressed interest. Nothing is imminent, but Current has engaged investment bankers to guide it through the process.
“Current has been approached many times by media companies interested in acquiring our company,” the network said in a statement. “This year alone, we have had three inquiries. As a consequence, we thought it might be useful to engage expertise to help us evaluate our strategic options.”
News of a potential sale was first reported by the New York Post.
Current is available in 60 million homes and earns as much as 12 cents per subscriber per month from operators, according to SNL Kagan. The hiring of Olbermann was intended to spur growth at the channel by enabling new carriage deals and bringing in blue chip advertisers. But Gore and network co-founder and CEO Joel Hyatt dismissed Olbermann last March, alleging that he failed to show up for work, among other complaints.
The split between Current and Olbermann has left a potentially large expense on Current’s books. Olbermann is suing Current for $40 million, the remainder owed on the five-year $50 million deal he signed in early 2011, plus additional compensation for “disparagement” in what Olbermann and his attorney Patricia Glaser alledge was a campaign to publicly discredit Olbermann. (Interstingly, though Olbermann has not been in on the network in more than six months, Current has yet to take down the Countdown landing page.)
When Olbermann brought his show to Current in June 2011 – after a falling out with MSNBC – the partnership looked promising enough. Olbermann’s viewership rivaled levels at CNN during his first week of shows in June 2011. But his ratings quickly came down to earth amid what Olbermann contends were a host of technical and digital issues at the network. And when in July of that year former CEO Mark Rosenthal, who was instrumental in convincing Olbermann to come to Current, was let go the situation deteriorated further.
Current replaced Olbermann in the 8 p.m. slot with Eliot Spitzer. In September, the network added a 9 p.m. show hosted by The View’s Joy Behar, who ended her HLN show at the end of 2011. Current also has shows hosted by Cenk Uygur and former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm as well as liberal radio personalities Bill Press and Stephanie Miller. But while it has quickly built a new stable of shows, the channel has yet to achieve a significant ratings turn-around.
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