Joel Hyatt, a co-founder and vice chairman of US-based Current TV, has confirmed in a memo to his staff that Al Jazeera will be acquiring the eight-year-old television network. The New York Times’ Brian Stelter tweeted out saying the acquisition deal was done and the internal memo is below.
It was reported in the New York Times earlier today that the pan-Arab news giant, based in Doha, Qatar, had expressed an interest in purchasing the network. In doing so, it was to provide an opening for Al Jazeera to make its way into the United States and leverage Current’s audience.
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The acquisition deals are slowly becoming known, but what has been revealed so far is that Current TV will no longer exist — it will be now known as Al Jazeera America and co-founder and former US Vice President Al Gore will serve on its “advisory board”. Al Jazeera is also purchasing Current TV’s carriage deals with DirecTV, Comcast, Dish, Verizon, and AT&T. Time Warner Cable (which represents a good percentage of the network’s total reach) was not included in the package.
It might interest some to know that Time Warner’s decision to not participate wasn’t because of who bought Current TV. Time Warner was already looking at dropping Current TV anyways because it was under-performing and had low-ratings, which fit the current pattern of the network.
Sure, it tried to make some bold moves by bringing on board former MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann, only to fire him in the midst of the US Presidential Election. It increased its offerings with news from former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, Joy Behar, Cenk Uygur, former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, and others, but that only averaged about 40,000 viewers a night.
Based on reports from the New York Times, Al Jazeera America would have 60% of its programming originate from within the United States, while the rest would come from the network’s Al Jazeera English channel.
There is speculation by some who say that Current TV was purchased for $400-500 million. Hyatt says in an internal memo to his staff that “When considering the several suitors who were interested in acquiring Current, it became clear to us that Al Jazeera was founded with the same goals we had for Current. Al Jazeera, like Current, believes that facts and truth lead to a better understanding of the world around us.”
From Hyatt’s memo, Al Jazeera wasn’t the only network trying to acquire Current TV.
Currently, Al Jazeera isn’t available throughout the entire United States as cable and satellite distributors have been hesitant to run its English channel. In a few cities like Washington, DC and New York City will you be able to find the network — of course, anyone with Internet access can still access the news. And right now 40% of the online viewing of Al Jazeera English comes from the US.
Current TV was formed in 2005 by Gore and Hyatt, along with other venture capital firms, Comcast, and DirecTV.
In the release from Al Jazeera, the acquisition would double the number of its US-based staff to more than 300 employees and would be headquartered in New York City. It would be in addition to existing news bureaus in NYC, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, Miami, and Chicago. The network is also looking to expand throughout the US in the future.
Al Jazeera’s Director General Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani says that this deal is a “historic development” in its 16-year history: “For many years, we understood that we could make a positive contribution to the news and information available in and about the United States and what we are announcing today will help us achieve that goal. By acquiring Current TV, Al Jazeera will significantly expand our existing distribution footprint in the U.S., as well as increase our newsgathering and reporting efforts in America.”
It looks like Al Jazeera America will go live this year, although the network isn’t saying when exactly.
The complete memo is below:
Al and I are thrilled and proud to announce that a few moments ago Current was acquired by Al Jazeera, the award winning international news organization.
When considering the several suitors who were interested in acquiring Current, it became clear to us that Al Jazeera was founded with the same goals we had for Current: To give voice to those whose voices are not typically heard; to speak truth to power; to provide independent and diverse points of view; and to tell the important stories that no one else is telling. Al Jazeera, like Current, believes that facts and truth lead to a better understanding of the world around us.
Al and I did significant due diligence as part of our evaluation process. We were impressed with all that we learned about Al Jazeera and its journalistic integrity, global reach, award-winning programming, and growing influence around the world. That influence has recently been demonstrated by Al Jazeera’s important and impactful coverage of the Arab Spring, which was widely credited as being the most thorough and informative coverage from any media company. Colin Powell told Al that Al Jazeera is the only cable news network he watches (which he is able to do because Comcast carries it in the Washington, DC market).
As you may know, Al Jazeera is funded by the government of Qatar, which is the United States’ closest ally in the Gulf Region, and is where the United States bases its Middle East Air Force operations. I have had first-hand knowledge of Qatar’s policies as a result of my tenure on the Board of The Brookings Institution. The Saban Center for Middle East Policy is a joint venture of The Brookings Institution and Qatar, and it has offices in Washington, DC and Doha, Qatar. Its purpose is to propose practical public policies that can contribute to peace in the Middle East, and its founding Director is my friend, Martin Indyk, the former U.S. Ambassador to Israel.
While considering this decision, I spent a week in Doha, Qatar, where Al Jazeera is headquartered, and I am pleased to tell you that I could not have been more impressed with their operation. First of all, they are bringing large-scale resources to journalism – something which we have not been able to do. Al Jazeera has more than 80 bureaus around the world, and is seen in more than 260 million homes in 130 countries. Al Jazeera has a staff of over 4000 people, including 400 journalists. Its journalists hail from more than 50 countries, with every conceivable nationality and religion represented on its professional team. Al Jazeera is a major global media player.
The rest of the world thinks so too. Al Jazeera English has won many, many awards including an Alfred I DuPont Award for Best Documentary, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Four Freedoms Awards for freedom of speech and expression, an Amnesty International Award for International TV and Radio, the prestigious Peabody Award, and the Huffington Post Ultimate Media Gamechanger award.
All of this is compelling, but what really convinced Al and me that Al Jazeera would be a great home for the people of Current was their publicly stated Values and Core Capabilities. Their mission includes the following: Diversity (“bringing stories from the underreported communities, societies and cultures from across the globe), Journalistic Integrity (“committed to the uncompromising pursuit of truth and the ideals of journalism”), and A Voice for the Voiceless (“promoting the basic human right of the freedom of expression for people everywhere”).
Al Jazeera is planning to invest significantly in building “Al Jazeera America,” a network focused on international news for the American audience. Al and I will both serve on the Advisory Board of Al Jazeera America, and we look forward to helping build an important news network.
Obviously there will be a lot of transition work in the coming weeks. Al Jazeera does not have a management team in place in the U.S to run this new venture. They are extremely impressed with our people and our accomplishments. I will be holding staff meetings in the next few days and will introduce the senior folks from Al Jazeera who have led the planning for this entry into the United States. (I will separately communicate as to the day and time for those staff meetings.) We will communicate more of the details of this acquisition during those meetings.
Getting this transaction done was very difficult. One of Current’s distributors, Time Warner Cable, did not consent to the sale to Al Jazeera. Consequently, Current will no longer be carried on TWC. This is unfortunate, but I am confident that Al Jazeera America will earn significant additional carriage in the months and years ahead. In the United Kingdom, it has become the number three news network (behind the BBC and Sky News). It did that by investing in great programming – as it intends to do in the United States.
Al and I are incredibly proud of what all of us have been able to accomplish together. Throughout our short history, Current has been a thought leader for the media industry, innovating many exciting features that became standard after we introduced them. (Tweets on television anyone?!) Just this past year, we’ve been able to provide our viewers with fantastic interactive and social TV 2.0 coverage of the Presidential Election, including a peek inside the Obama Campaign headquarters, in depth analysis of the Libor Scandal, the breaking and relentless coverage of the Trayvon Martin scandal, and the list goes on and on. We have won most of the important awards in the journalism profession. We have stayed true to our independence and courage. And in our choice of new corporate parent, we are continuing to strive to make a difference – to provide the American people with information and analysis they need to live better, more secure, happier lives. I am confident this will continue into the future.
As I reflected deeply about this decision – both to sell the company and to whom – I kept coming back to one basic notion: The purpose of journalism is to provide those who don’t know with information and knowledge so that they can become those who do know. Bias and hatred are fueled by ignorance. Information and knowledge are the only antidotes to that ignorance. That is the role journalism must play – to provide the knowledge that sweeps away the bias and hatred caused by ignorance. It is a noble pursuit. I am proud of each and every one of you for your dedication to pursuing that noble goal. And it is a privilege to have worked with all of you these past few years.
Please accept my best wishes for a happy, healthy, exciting and fulfilling New Year!
All the best,
Photo credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images