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May 4, 2004
Liberal Network, Take 2

Al Gore finally closed the deal on the launch of his long-desired television network. Gore led a group of investors in the purchase of Newsworld International, a cable/satellite television channel which broadcasts 24-hour news programming from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. While Gore often spoke of creating a liberal television network to counter what he claimed was the right-wing bias in the American broadcast networks, he now says that the programming will remain neutral:

"This is not going to be a liberal network, or a Democratic network in any way, shape, or form," the former vice president said.

Rather, he said, the reason for buying the network was to create an independent source of information.

If that sounds like a distinction without a difference, the list of Gore's investors will only reinforce that opinion:

Gore made the announcement with business partner Joel Hyatt, who founded a chain of low-cost storefront legal clinics and is now a faculty member at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

Hyatt, who will serve as CEO of the venture, said the network operates profitably, but would need significant additional investment to be relaunched.

Backers of the company, known as INdTV Holdings LLC, include venture capital firm Blum Capital and Yucaipa Companies, an investor in grocery stores headed by Democratic fundraiser Ron Burkle.

Other individual backers are a list of prominent Hollywood and Silicon Valley figures, including Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy, former Warner Home Video president Warren Lieberfarb and The West Wing actor Bradley Whitford.

Yes, that certainly looks like a balanced, non-partisan ownership group. Not that they're required to be, of course -- but having Al Gore claim that this group would put all that money ($70 million was the asking price, according to the NY Daily News six months ago) into this kind of venture while claiming to be apolitical stretches credulity to the breaking point. According to a New York Observer article republished on Independent Media TV, the tortured path to moguldom for the former VP involved some interesting characters:

Mr. Gores group plans to transform the sleepy foreign-news outlet into a youth-oriented public-affairs channel, a jump-cut news network for the iPod set. Despite vociferous claims that the network isnt attempting to be the liberal antidote to Rupert Murdochs Fox News, its difficult to ignore the obvious: It may be fair, it may be balanced, but its going to be owned by Al Gore...

It wasnt easy for Mr. Gore to get his hands on NWI. According to two sources familiar with the situation, Mr. Gore went so far as to seek the influence of French President Jacques Chirac in buying the channel, hoping that Mr. Chirac would aid him in landing a sweetened deal with Vivendi chief executive Jean-Ren Fourtouand quick. That request resulted in a meeting last summer with executives of Universal Television Group and Vivendis chief operating officer, Jean-Bernard Levy. At the time, however, Vivendi was preparing to sell its cable properties to NBC, which temporarily stalled Mr. Gores media ambitions.

The deal was delayed for nearly a year, most recently by Barry Diller, chairman and chief executive of InterActive Corp. As the former owner of USA Networks, which he sold to Vivendi for $10 billion in 2001, Mr. Diller still owned a stake in those properties. Sources said Vivendi was keen on selling NWI to Mr. Gore, but Mr. Diller needed to resolve his ownership in Universal properties first. One source with knowledge of the situation suggested that Mr. Diller had stalled the deal as a bargaining chip to improve his take on Vivendis sale of Universal to NBC. But a spokeswoman for Mr. Diller disputed that. "It was only Mr. Gore who asked us to reconsider, given how long the process was taking," she said, "to which we did agree to let this asset escape from our J.V. [joint venture], for no consideration of any kind or as part of any discussion with Vivendi."

In any case, the path was cleared for Mr. Gores group to close the deal. Its not clear where Mr. Gore and Mr. Hyatt rounded up the money, or how they will cover the gargantuan programming costs to come. But as you may recall, Mr. Gores first gig after the election of 2000 was becoming vice chairman of Metropolitan West Financial Inc., headquartered in Los Angeles, which hired him to explore high-tech investments. With the assistance of Peter Knight, his former Democratic fund-raiser and a managing director at Metropolitan West, Mr. Gore had access to scores of investors, according to sources close to him.

Gorevision plans on using documentaries, comedy, and other formats to provide "bold" and "irreverent" viewpoints to public affairs and entertainment, targeting the 18-34 age group so desired by advertisers. In order to produce entertainment that will steal that group from the sports and news shows they now favor, it will take a serious cash infusion above what they've already spent on ownership of the channel. Given the above information, I doubt they're going to generate the investment needed nor spend the money required to avoid communicating any partisan slant.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 4, 2004 6:23 PM

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Al Gore TV is in the TV bidness.... Former Vice President Al Gore plans to build a youth-oriented cable television network he hopes will become an independent voice in a media industry dominated by large conglomerates, he said on Tuesday.Flashback:... [Read More]

Tracked on May 5, 2004 8:42 AM

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