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Al Jazeera acquires Al Gore's Current TV cable network (update)

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Al Jazeera
Al Jazeera

According to the New York Times, Al Jazeera is closing in on a deal to buy Current TV, the cable network founded by Al Gore. The international news organization — funded by and headquartered in Qatar — reportedly plans to launch an all-new network if the deal goes through, instead of merely moving its existing English-language channel to US cable listings. Al Jazeera America, as the Times suspects it may be called, would be headquartered in New York City with up to 60 percent of programming produced within the United States.

Gore's Current TV has consistently suffered lackluster ratings for years since it went on air in 2005, and confirmed late last year that it had received several inquiries for a sale. Despite Current's troubles, taking over the channel would introduce Al Jazeera to a much larger audience. Providers in the US have proven hesitant to broadcast Al Jazeera English, even as the news company has established a favorable reputation in recent years. More importantly, it would give US consumers another choice in how they receive news as fresh competition against juggernauts CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News.

Update: The New York Times is now reporting that the deal is official. According to the paper's Brian Stelter, Current CEO Joel Hyatt sent a memo out to employees announcing the acquisition, informing them that Gore would have a position on the advisory board of what is indeed referred to as "Al Jazeera America." As for the company's ambitions to gain traction on American airwaves, Stelter reports that Current TV's deals with multiple cable and satellite providers — including DirecTV, Comcast, and Dish — are part of the acquisition. Time Warner Cable, however, is reportedly not one of the deals that will be transferring over to Al Jazeera.

Update 2: Forbes has published Hyatt's memo in its entirety, in which the CEO touts Al Jazeera's journalistic bona fides. He also notes that due to Time Warner Cable's opposition to the acquisition, the carrier will be dropping Current TV immediately.

"This is unfortunate," Hyatt writes in the memo, "but I am confident that Al Jazeera America will earn significant additional carriage in the months and years ahead. In the United Kingdom, it has become the number three news network (behind the BBC and Sky News). It did that by investing in great programming — as it intends to do in the United States."

Update 3: The question of just how much Al Jazeera paid may now be coming to light: Bloomberg is reporting that Current TV was sold for "about $500 million."