AL GORE STUMPS COUNTRY FOR HIS NEW TV CHANNEL

Eyes Using Consumer-Created Commercials

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Al Gore remains an advocate of the Internet, but TV still beats the Web as a cultural force, which is the reason his launch uses the name Current TV, not Current.com.
Photo: AP
Al Gore is touring the country to promote his new Current TV channel.
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TV-centric operation
Although much progress has been made in delivering TV-like content over the Internet, thanks to the penetration of broadband Internet access and innovations such as Bitorrent, "there's still that so-called last mile to the home," Mr. Gore, Current TV's chairman, said. “The Internet is playing a growing role, but for the foreseeable future the relative impact of TV over cable and satellite compared to TV over the Internet is still weighted tremendously in favor of cable and satellite.”

He noted when that tipping point comes, Current TV would be there. “We live right on that cutting edge,” he said. “We’re in Silicon Valley and some of our founding investors are some of the legendary people of that set of industries.”

Mr. Gore, in a black suit, light blue shirt and red tie fit for a presidential debate, addressed reporters late last week at the Regency Hotel in Manhattan as part of a promotional tour for his 2-month-old cable channel. Available in 20 million homes, Current TV will increase distribution to 50 million in the next five years, Mr. Gore said.

Consumer-created ads
Anne Zehren, Current TV's president-sales and marketing, was also on hand and said the network has been talking to sponsors about airing consumer-created advertising on the network -- a trend many advertisers have employed online but not necessarily on TV.

“We think the same creativity can be unleashed on the advertisements as well,” she said.

Current's ad sales proposition includes isolated creative brand messages better known as island messages and exclusive sponsorships of programming pods.

When Current launched Aug. 5, it was lauded as a convergence of TV and Internet. In reality, it’s a true-to-form digital cable network that draws inspiration and feedback from the Web.

The news and information cable network airs a mix of short-form programming that varies from 15 seconds to 10 minutes. Almost a third of it is viewer-generated and twice an hour a short segment called “Google Current” features the day's top Google searches. The network also drives viewers to its Web site, where they can watch viewer-submitted videos and vote for the ones they think should make it on the air.

Viewers invited to co-program
“We’re inviting the people who watch Current to co-program Current with us,” Mr. Gore said. Later, sounding very much like the academic of the operation, he launched a diatribe on the “conversation of democracy.”

“Our mission to try to help democratize the medium of our time and open it up to the voices of individual citizens,” the former U.S. vice president said, “and to generate a meritocracy of video and ideas and to restart a multi-wave conversation of democracy.” Mr. Gore was joined by other Current TV executives, including CEO Joel Hyatt, who, when asked what worries him most about the overall TV landscape, lamented its “sameness.”

“When Al and I started this process, the most amazing thing to me as an entrepreneur entering an industry as an outsider was to find out the more we got excited about telling people inside the industry that what we were doing was new and different and doesn’t exist on television, the more they thought we were clueless -- how could we start a network that wasn’t going to be like any other?”

Over and over, Current executives were asked, “Tell us what you’re going to be like?” Mr. Hyatt recalled. “We’d say, 'Well there is no network we’re going to be like' and you could see their eyes glaze over like, goodbye.”

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