Ed Driscoll

Al Gore's Ill-Conceived Assault on Cable

Could Al Gore’s Current TV help to reduce global warming by going off the air? Linking to a Reuters report, Breitbart News notes:

If its ratings are any indication, there’s a solid shot that Time Warner Cable could kick the channel off the air. As Reuters reported today:

Time Warner Cable Inc’s carriage agreement with Current TV stipulates that, if the left-leaning political news network fails to meet a minimum threshold for overall viewers in a given quarter, financial penalties such as Current TV being required to increase marketing and promotion spending on the cable operator’s systems are triggered.

If this continues for a second quarter, Time Warner can dump Current on the side of the road. The loss of Keith Olbermann is apparently a big hit for the little cable channel that couldn’t; his replacement, Eliot Spitzer, premiered with a tiny audience. Brad Agate, a senior vice president for research at Horizon Media, commented skeptically, “If Olbermann couldn’t get to where he was at MSNBC on Current, I don’t see how Spitzer can get to where he was at CNN there.”

The sad fact of the matter is that Current TV never had a real market. CNN and MSNBC are already liberal; a third competitor that is even more to the left than MSNBC was superfluous. Right now, Current is in approximately 60 million homes, but Olbermann, its biggest show, was getting less than 200,000 viewers per night. The only reason, apparently, that Time Warner even signed a new deal with Current after the last go-around was because top level executives at Current – possibly even Al Gore himself – called Time Warner executives to beg and plead.

And the early numbers for The Client #9 Show are even grimmer than Olbermann’s.

Setting aside its current (pardon the pun) loony far left politics, in retrospect, MSNBC’s sense of timing actually hasn’t been too bad, for a channel long thought an excess appendage to NBC and CNBC. MSNBC first emerged in the mid-1990s, arguably at both the height of Microsoft’s power and just as the first round of Internet fever was building. From what I remember of watching the channel back then, it had very much a nascent Tech-TV/Wired magazine sort of vibe, with Soledad O’Brien as one of its hosts talking tech, long before she emerged as one of Rev. Wright’s public boosters at CNN. After the dot.com bubble burst, MSNBC sort of zig-zagged around the politics of the left and right in the mid-naughts (recall that Jesse Ventura and Michael Savage were two of its failed hosts around 2003). It finally came out officially as a hard left channel in November of 2007, when it earned a stamp of approval from the only slightly more genteel, but also openly liberal, New York Times. No coincidence that by then, when an election year was gearing up, the hard left was growing angrier at President Bush by the day, and counting down the clock to when they could replace him.

In other words, it’s much easier to emerge as a salon for the opposition to whoever is in power, than be its booster. (Fox News started right around the same time MSNBC did, and quickly devoted its early programming to the many scandals, sexual and otherwise, emerging from the Huey Long-like Clinton administration. And of course, it had a ready-made audience desperate for non-left-wing news and opinion.)

Current TV, which lacks the corporate base of Microsoft, GE, Vivendi and NBC, attempted to “Compete with MSNBC from the left,” Politico noted last week, during a period when the left controls the White House and the Senate, and whatever disappointments far left voters have in their president, they aren’t likely to abandon him at election time. That makes for some awfully tough-sledding in trying to launch a new TV network. To update what I wrote on Sunday, Fox News may take up plenty of rent-free space in Al Gore’s head, but his real competition, besides MSNBC, is CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC, PBS, NPR, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. Plus Websites such as the Huffington Post, the Daily Kos, and Democratic Underground. (And a zillion other Websites, cable channels, and publications.) If your politics are somewhere left of center, you can get your news and opinion served up with whatever tone that you’d like, from genteel to spittle-flecked pugilism. And likely, your viewing and reading habits are pretty well established by now. What does Current have that allows it to stand out from that?

As Breitbart News quips, “The good news: if Gore’s network goes under, he can always blame political, man-made climate change.”

Setting aside the enormous cognitive dissonance in a man obsessed with global warming contributing mightily to it with his various enterprises, Al has another fallback excuse. It’s one he’s used before

Related: Ace wonders why cable TV isn’t a la carte to begin with; yet another reason why it may be only a matter of time before the Roku box (and similar streaming devices) replace the 30 year old cable TV business model.

Update: Pass the popcorn: E! News “has exclusively learned from his attorney” that Keith Olbermann will be “filing suit against his former bosses today.” To paraphrase Henry Kissinger’s thoughts on another pair of reprimitivised tribalists gone to war, it’s a pity somebody has to win.

More on that suit, and the man some once called “the future of journalism,” in a follow-up post. Incidentally, if Al Gore can’t run a TV station, why should we trust his schemes to rejigger the entire world’s economy to combat whatever apocalyptic nightmares are currently occupying his cerebellum?

Besides his TV channel getting dropped by the cable companies, that is.

(Thumbnail on PJM homepage assembled from multiple Shutterstock images. Photo of Al Gore by jaimaa / Shutterstock.com.)