Al Gore is going YouTube. Or at least, his year-old Current TV channel intends to go searching for potential viewers on the Internet. That's the latest announcement out of the venture that the former Vice-President launched with Joel Hyatt, a Democratic fundraiser and lawyer-entrepreneur. Starting Sept. 19, Current TV, which features "viewer-created videos," began offering four streaming video channels on Yahoo!
The new Yahoo (YHOO) Current Network, which aims to target the same 18-34 audience the cable network aspires to reach, will have channels dedicated to action sports ("straight from the people who love it and live it"), an automotive channel, and a travel channel featuring video postcards. A fourth Yahoo Current Buzz Channel will showcase the site's best videos and is being produced by Madeleine Smithberg, a co-creator of Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
LACKLUSTER YEAR. In its first year in existence, Current TV, the former Newsworld International channel that Gore and Hyatt purchased from Vivendi Universal for a reported $70 million, has hardly taken 18- to 34-year-olds by storm. It's seen in around 30 million households—light by TV network standards, where anything short of 50 million households isn't likely to get Nielsen to rate it for advertisers.
Moreover, while DirecTV (DTV) carries the channel to its 16 million or so subscribers, most of Current's other viewers can only see it on the "digital tiers" from Comcast and Time Warner (TWX). To find it on Comcast (CCT) means a trip to channel 107, or to 366 on DirecTV.
Hyatt hopes the Yahoo deal will help pull in a larger audience attracted to the sometimes off-beat videos uploaded by Current TV viewers. "Our plan all along was to offer more platforms than just cable TV," he says.
Will Yahoo be that place? That's hard to say. Jason Zajac, Yahoo's vice-president and general manager of its social media unit, says that the site's streaming media service can get 500,000 viewers or so when the topic is hot—such as a recent series of videos on the fifth anniversary of September 11. For Current TV's hodge podge of videos, a better aim may be more like tens of thousands of viewers, says Zajac.
ATTRACTING ADS. Those numbers won't have advertisers clicking their heels in anticipation of the next video from Al Gore TV. But Hyatt and Zajac say the new Yahoo Current Network has already lined up advertisers willing to put their ads alongside its videos. Unlike YouTube, for instance, Hyatt says "the content is the best in viewer-generated content and it's the kind that advertisers want to be associated with."
Current TV vets the content, he says, to guard against improper videos. "And we own the content, too," he says, an obvious reference to concerns of late that user-generated content sites like YouTube and MySpace may be using music and other content without the permission of the content creators (see BusinessWeek.com, 9/18/06, "Sour Musical Notes on YouTube").
Hyatt and Zajac won't talk numbers, and it's not likely Gore & Co. are making money. But these are early times. Hyatt says more announcements are coming, including one from more traditional outlets, like satellite or cable operators interested in putting some user-generated content on the tube. Certainly, revolutions have started with less firepower than one-third of a country's TV sets and a hot new deal with a major Internet player. Now, if only Al Gore TV could scare up some excitement.