Former Vice President Al Gore in an Aug. 7 appearance at New York University. The event was sponsored by the liberal activist group Moveon.org.
"Liberal TV is dead on arrival," said an insider advising Mr. Gore and his team. "You just can't do it."
The Gore-led group of investors is about two weeks away from forming an agreement with Vivendi Universal Entertainment to acquire Canadian-based cable network Newsworld International for about $70 million, said an insider at Universal Television Networks, the Vivendi unit that currently operates the network.
The proposed news network will be positioned as "a professional news operation reaching an aware, younger, hipper audience," the adviser said, characterizing it as a combination of CNN and MTV. "The station will try to reach a younger market."
That's likely to make it more enticing to advertisers who were wary of plunking down ads on a network aligned with a particular political party.
Fragmented youth media
"The question is whether TV is the way young people will get their news or whether it will come to them over the Internet, on some form of PDA with just headlines, scores, stock market and breaking news," said Aaron Cohen, executive vice president and director of broadcast at Horizon Media. "If you want to talk to young people, that's where you go. They haven't grown up to be news viewers yet."
In order to attract the right kind of audience, Mr. Cohen said the network would "have to have some truly unique personalities, a unique skew on the news, lifestyle stuff."
50 million subscribers
Newsworld International, created by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 1994, has 20 million subscribers and 58 employees. Its news programming originates in North America, Asia and Europe. It was sold to USA Networks in 2000, and then to Vivendi Universal, which sells advertising for the channel through its Universal Television Networks sales force, which also handles SciFi, Trio and USA. According to a sales executive there, the majority of advertising on NWI is direct response. "We haven't been aggressively selling it," said the executive. "We're waiting for distribution to pick up." Advertisers include General Motors Corp., Expedia.com and package-goods companies.
Last week, General Electric Co., parent of NBC, agreed to buy the entertainment properties of Vivendi Universal. GE will own 80% of the new company, while Vivendi retains 20%. Vivendi's TV properties, which include USA Network, Sci Fi and Trio, will combine with NBC's Bravo, Telemundo, MSNBC and CNBC. NBC Universal, will be the fourth-largest media conglomerate, with revenues of approximately $13 billion, when the deal is finalized in early 2004.
A Gore 'firewall'?
Some observers feel that despite the change in tack, a network led by Mr. Gore will not be able to erect a firewall thick enough to insulate it from his Democratic Party affiliation.
"If there is any transparency to Gore, then it will be identified as a partisan operation, which will alienate advertisers," said the sales executive.
"The problem with being associated as liberal is that they wouldn't be going in a direction that advertisers are really interested in," said Paul Rittenberg, senior vice president of advertising and market research at Fox News. "We don't get business for being conservative, we get business because the ratings are good and we believe that we're fair. If you go out and say that you are a liberal network, you are cutting your potential audience, and certainly your potential advertising pool, right off the bat. "