The timing could hardly be better for CurrentTV. Just days after board chairman Al Gore won a share of the Nobel Peace Price, the fledging youth-oriented news and information cable network launched its new Current.com Web site, which adds a new degree of user involvement and social networking to an operation that has already won an Emmy for interactive television.
Being way, way out of Current’s 18-to-34 target demographic, I was prepared to hate the channel, but was pleasantly surprised by its mix of staff and viewer produced short-form videos. Production values for even the viewer-produced content is orders of magnitude better than most of the content on YouTube and the content is refreshing and informative. Though there is plenty of silliness, I thought the overall tone was actually more substantive than the celebrity and murder-and-mayhem obsessed programming of cable news channels. And the viewer-produced ads are a hoot.
The new Web site, which replaces Current.tv, let's viewers submit comments on segments as they are being aired (Current is carried by cable and satellite to 40 million homes in the U.S. and another 10 million in the United Kingdom and Ireland) and on live segments, the comments can make it onto the air almost immediately. It's not entirely a new idea, since CNN sometimes does something of the sort using e-mail, but it's far more extensive than on nay existing network.
I had a chance to sit down last week with CEO Joel Hyatt, who like Gore, lost a highly publicized race for office, in his case to succeed his father-in-law, Senator Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio). The concept of Current.com, Hyatt says, was shaped by surveys that showed that 70% of Current TV viewers had a laptop open as they watched. "It's a new form of social media where viewers can create, engage, and influence news and information," Hyatt says. The hope is to find a happy medium that "combines social news and editorial direction," avoiding the twin tyrranies of traditional top-down content selection and of purely algorithm-driven choices.
So far, it seems to be working. Hyatt says Current, which went on the air in August, 2005, became profitable this year.