Current TV is “television for the internet generation,” according to its founder Al Gore, speaking at the channel’s UK and Irish launch on Monday.
Created in 2005 by Gore and Joel Hyatt, Current TV is the first television channel produced by, for and with an 18-34 year-old audience.
Uniquely, one third of the channel’s programming is supplied by the audience which watches it.
The channel operates as a hybrid between the internet and television platforms.
The schedule, which is designed for “media snacking”, is dictated by the viewers, via the Current TV website, who have the power not only to comment on videos but also “green light”
programmes on to the television channel.
Current TV’s VC2 (Viewer Created Content) concept promotes viewer contributions and the network pays these VC2 producers when their short films (also known as “pods”) are shown on the channel.
The channel forsakes the traditional top of the hour news item, preferring to air a three-minute Google Current news item based on the most popular news stories of the day, every 30 minutes.
“Instead of getting our news from some authority, we rely on the millions of mouse-clickers across the globe to let us know what is top of the agenda,”
In addition to VC2, viewers of the network will see short form “vanguard journalism” pods which aim to be reinventing TV journalism for a new generation of viewers. James DuBern, Current’s UK director of programming, says that he is currently recruiting a team of around five vanguard journalists for the UK channel.
The channel is also committed to “nurturing talent”. Current’s website has a slickly produced, in-depth guide which provides users with a comprehensive training guide to producing video. Topics range from production tips and storytelling to journalism, equipment and editing and could give the BBC Journalism College website a good run for its money.
The channel is already drawing in rising stars from traditional media. One example is 27-year-old associate producer Nick Leader, who started his career in print at the Financial Times but went on to work on current affairs and documentaries at production companies including Shine, Carbon and Princess TV.
Leader and colleague James Ross were commissioned to make two shortform documentaries for the channel. He describes the process of working with Current as “liberating”.
“When you’re a researcher or an AP [assistant producer] you learn from your producers and directors, but after a few years in the industry getting to do something ourselves, the learning curve felt steeper. It was really satisfying running the shoots, leading the interviews and overseeing the edit,”
In its news gathering Current offers an alternative perspective on the main issues of the day. During its coverage of the Lebanese conflict last summer the channel aired a film by fledgling producer Marianne Sargi showing how the thriving Beirut music scene had been affected by the bombings.
On the eve of its US launch, some commentators suspected the channel would be a vehicle for Gore to use the media to convey his political stance, and that Current would become “propaganda lite”, dominated by left-wing views. However, speaking at the launch event, Mark Goodman stressed: “Our aim is to be objective, fair and to provide a representation of what people want to see.
“We reflect the diversity of news that our viewers want. If we run a subjective piece, we acknowledge that slant and invite others to respond to it.”
Giving the Alternative McTaggart speech at the Edinburgh Television Festival, Gore said: “Most of what is happening in the encounter between television and the internet has been the internet cannibalising television. What is needed is to reverse the flow and find ways to use the internet to give individuals access to the public forum, which is television.”
According to Gore, the internet offers broadcasters the promise of “recreating a meritocracy of ideas with low entry barriers for individuals, a multi-way conversation in which individuals can not only find information they are searching for, but can also contribute information and then watch as its quality is judged.”
When Gore announced last October that Current would be launching on Sky in 2007, James Murdoch seemed genuinely enthused about the venture saying, “Current TV is bringing the web’s sense of empowerment to television for the first time. It has a uniquely collaborative approach to working with viewer producers that stands out among other platforms for user-generated video.”
Channels such as MTV Flux have already been inspired by the Current model and all major broadcasters are increasingly looking at ways to incorporate UGC into their programming.
Yet it remains to be seen if Gore can replicate Current’s success in the UK in the UK and Ireland too.
Current TV can be found at channel 229 on the Sky EPG and 155 on Virgin.