Thursday, May 24, 2018
TV and Media

Bright House to drop Current TV before Al-Jazeera moves in

LOS ANGELES — With its $500 million purchase of left-leaning Current TV, the pan-Arab news channel Al-Jazeera will soon be seen in tens of millions of U.S. homes, although some cable providers have already said they plan to drop Current TV in the deal's aftermath.

The purchase will create a news channel called Al-Jazeera America, coming to American homes 90 days from now with a distinctly non-American view of the world. The network claims many people in the U.S. have sought its programming online, and that it aims to present an "unbiased" view, "representing as many different viewpoints as possible."

However, the nation's second-largest TV operator, Time Warner Cable, dropped Current after the deal was confirmed Wednesday, saying the network didn't have enough viewers.

The change in ownership gives Time Warner the right to drop the channel, but spokeswoman Maureen Huff said the company is keeping "an open mind" about airing the new Al-Jazeera America.

"As a service develops, we will evaluate whether it makes sense for our customers to launch the network," Huff said.

Bright House Networks, the Tampa Bay area's biggest cable TV provider, will also drop Current TV, according to spokesman Joe Durkin, who emailed: "Our agreement with Current TV has been terminated and we will no longer be carrying the service."

Bob Elek, a spokesman for the area's other big cable TV company, Verizon FiOS, declined to comment on whether it would continue carrying whatever Current TV becomes, saying the situation was under review.

Even after it is rebranded later this year, the channel will continue to be carried by DirecTV, Dish Network and Comcast, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified by the Associated Press.

The deal boosts the reach of Al-Jazeera to about 50 million homes, up from the 4.7 million that could watch Al-Jazeera English, which is available to some subscribers in New York and Washington. That's down slightly from the 60 million homes Current TV was in.

It also amounts to a hefty payday for former Vice President Al Gore and co-founder Joel Hyatt, each of whom had 20 percent stakes in Current. Comcast had less than a 10 percent stake.

Orville Schell, the former dean of journalism at the University of California at Berkeley, who was on Current's board, said the sale was justified.

"The reason to sell to Al-Jazeera is that they wished to buy it," Schell said. "Whatever one may think about them, they have become a serious broadcaster that covers the world in an impressively comprehensive way. Time Warner probably dropped the contract because they fear American prejudice."

Al-Jazeera, owned by the government of Qatar, plans to gradually transform Current into Al-Jazeera America by adding five to 10 new U.S. bureaus beyond the five it has now and hiring more journalists. More than half of the content will be U.S. news and the network will have its headquarters in New York, spokesman Stan Collender said.

Times TV/media critic Eric Deggans contributed to this report.

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