The Wiki Cable Channel

At Current, the crowd creates the content

Former Vice-President Al Gore and Joel Hyatt, a former plaintiffs' lawyer and longtime Gore backer, are betting that young adults who grew up editing their home movies and hanging out on MySpace want to also control what shows up on their TV. Current, the cable channel the pair launched two years ago, lets aspiring moviemakers and citizen journalists submit work via the Web for inclusion in mostly short, YouTube-length "pods" shown on Current's cable channel. The channel is available in more than 50 million homes.

Now Current is moving even closer to crowd-controlled TV. Since mid-October, visitors to its Web site have been able to watch everything that was on the channel in the previous two hours or what's coming in the next two, leave comments on the shows, put up links to other sites, or add raw video to a story (say, of the California fires). They can even click on an "assignment" tab to see if a producer needs extra reporting. Your comment might appear, with your photo, right there on the screen. Says David A. Neuman, Current's president of programming: "I can't imagine one of the other networks saying, this just in from one of our viewers.'"

In many ways, though, Current feels like TV evolution, not a revolution. It's unclear how many viewers actually watch it; Current won't say. And you may beg for a fast-forward button so you can skip the piece on the aspiring male model having his chest hair removed to get to the cold-sweat inducing demonstration by a former Navy Seal who had himself "waterboarded" to illustrate the controversial interrogation technique.

Yet Current seems to have dispelled some long-standing assumptions, such as that people don't want computers in their living rooms. (Current claims that more than 70% of its viewers have a laptop open while they watch the TV channel, giving them a means to participate.) Also, Current appears to have a business model that works. While many Internet/TV schemes focus on bringing shows direct to the Net, Current is paid handsomely for its content by cable and satellite TV outfits, just like ESPN and Nickelodeon. As a result, executives say, Current is profitable.

By Peter Burrows

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