Al-Jazeera buys cable news channel co-founded by Al Gore

LOS ANGELES — Current TV, the small cable news channel co-founded by former Vice President Al Gore, has been sold to Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based media company.

The acquisition gives Al-Jazeera, which is funded by the Qatar government, the opportunity to increase its footprint in the United States, where it already has an English-language version of its Qatar service — called Al-Jazeera English — but limited reach.

Founded in 2004 and originally known for its documentary-style, viewer-produced programming, Current spent the last two years trying to build a news network that would appeal to a more mainstream liberal audience. It spent heavily to woo former MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann to its network, hoping that viewers and advertising dollars would follow.

But the plan backfired when Olbermann clashed with management and was forced out. He then sued Current, and the two sides entered into a nasty legal battle that remains unresolved.

Current subsequently hired former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and comedian Joy Behar but has failed to generate better ratings.

Al-Jazeera's first challenge will be to strike a new deal with Time Warner Cable. One of the network's largest distributors, the cable company said Wednesday that it would no longer carry Current.

Current's deal with the cable company was up, and its low ratings and new ownership led the cable operator to drop the channel.

Terms of the purchase were not disclosed by the privately held Current Media. Last fall, when Current first acknowledged it was for sale, analysts said the company could fetch as much as $300 million.

Without Time Warner Cable's support, though, the value of the network may be lower.

In a memo announcing the sale, Current co-founder Joel Hyatt said Al-Jazeera plans to rebrand Current as Al-Jazeera America, with a focus on international news. Hyatt said he and Gore would serve on an advisory board for the new outlet.

Gore and Hyatt said in a statement that Current and Al-Jazeera shared similar goals of speaking "truth to power," providing "independent and diverse points of view" and telling "the stories that no one else is telling."

Al-Jazeera is expected to move quickly on making over Current and may have its imprint on the channel by spring. Officials from Al-Jazeera were not made available for comment.

One of the largest international news operations, Al-Jazeera has close to 100 bureaus around the globe. Its content is available in more than 250 million homes in 130 countries.

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