FDL News can confirm that, in a little over an hour, Keith Olbermann will announce on a conference call with reporters that he will join Current TV for a nightly television show. Bill Carter and Brian Stelter at the New York Times hinted at this last night. Former and current employees of Current were able to confirm the deal.
This is an unusual deal because Current had been foundering in the “Year 5, let’s purchase a lot of available content cheap” part of their lifespan, usually the last step before closure. Current, co-founded by former Vice President Al Gore, sought to create a channel entirely out of citizen-created content. People would upload stories to their site, and they would play them out in “pods” throughout the day. Like MTV or any short-form programming channel, this got old fast, and the quality was based on what came over the transom. So they hired reporters to get their own stories; probably the most famous Current story of all time concerned Lisa Ling and Euna Lee’s filming at the Chinese/North Korean border, which led to their detention and eventual release thanks to former President Clinton. More recently, Current started buying reruns of shows like “This American Life” and movies like “Brick.” They are in 60 million homes, but typically on the digital tier.
Olbermann gives them an identity and a voice, but that’s only one hour a night. Keith himself may add an online component to his media empire, and get an equity stake in Current (which he probably deserves, since his presence will keep that network alive in the near term). Current had a production executive hierarchy that could be charitably called “dysfunctional,” so pairing that with Olbermann could become a combustible mix. And he’ll have to do a lot of work getting his fans and viewers to find the channel, let alone watch.
On the bright side, he’ll have the opportunity basically to remake an entire channel in his image. Current is probably shelling out a lot of money for Olbermann, so I don’t know if they’ll be able to add follow-on programming in the near future and create an entire lineup. But if they can, it would undoubtedly reflect Olbermann’s vision.
I don’t know if what the United States needs is another cable news channel, but it’ll certainly give Jon Stewart more material to work with.
UPDATE: Olbermann has made his announcement. He will become the “Chief News Officer” of Current, a fancier way of saying editor-in-chief, akin to the role that lead anchors play in news divisions. He will have an equity stake in Current Media. His one-hour show will air 5 nights a week. No specific word on the start date, just “later in 2011.”
In his statement, Olbermann stressed that “nothing is more vital to my concept of a free media than news produced independently of corporate interference.”
Interestingly enough, Comcast has a 10% stake in Current Media.
…Current has the announcement up.