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Al Gore’s channel


Former Vice President Al Gore, chairman and co-founder of Current, along with  producers and hosts Laura Ling and Gotham Chopra, present the upcoming independent cable television network, during a preview, last month in Beverly Hills, Calif. 
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Former Vice President Al Gore, chairman and co-founder of Current, along with producers and hosts Laura Ling and Gotham Chopra, present the upcoming independent cable television network, during a preview, last month in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
David Bauder Associated Press

Much of the talk around Al Gore’s new Current TV network has been broadly philosophical, like the former vice president’s statement that “we want to be the television home page for the Internet generation.”

But when it debuts today, Current will be judged by the same mundane standards as other networks – on whether its programming can hold a viewer’s interest.

Gore and his fellow investors envision Current as a sounding board for young people, a step beyond traditional notions of interactivity. They want viewers to contribute much of the network’s content now that quality video equipment is widely available.

Based on material previewed on its Web site, Current at first glance seems like a hipper, more irreverent version of traditional television newsmagazines.

Most of its programming will be in “pods,” roughly two to seven minutes long, covering topics like jobs, technology, spirituality and current events. An Internetlike on-screen progress bar will show the pod’s length.

Its short films include a profile of a hang glider and a piece on working in a fish market. One contributor talked about what it was like to have his phone number on a hacked Internet list of Paris Hilton’s cell phone contacts, saying that dealing with curiosity seekers was like “hosting your own radio call-in show.”

Every half-hour, Current promises a news update using data from Google on news stories most frequently searched for on the Web.

“We have no illusions about the fact that our product has to be compelling,” said David Neuman, Current’s programming director. “We also believe it has to be unique. Who wants to watch the seventh clone of a different network?”

Only about 25 percent of Current’s initial material is truly audience-generated; the rest has been done by staff members or solicited from professionals. But Neuman said he expects more amateur contributions once the network is established.

“We’re not relying on what we think is cool or interesting or happening,” he said. “We’re holding up a mirror to our audience. That, to me, is our insurance policy.”

Despite suspicions created by his former profession, Gore promises the network won’t be advancing a political point of view.

“I think the reality of the network will speak for itself,” he recently told reporters in Los Angeles. “It’s not intended to be partisan in any way and not intended to be ideological.”

Gore’s name may help attract the curious, at least initially.

“People may not have heard of Current TV, but they will have heard that Al Gore has a television station,” said J.D. Lasica, co-founder of Ourmedia.org and an expert on digital media.

Gore’s team bought the former Newsworld International channel to ensure it has at least some initial distribution. About 20 million homes (out of about 110 million nationally) will get Current TV right away, including subscribers to DirecTV’s Total Choice package.

Success depends on more than doubling that within a couple of years, said analyst Mark Mackenzie of Sanford Bernstein.

To do that, Current must successfully straddle the rapidly changing worlds of television and the Web.

“Current TV is important not for what it is today as for what it heralds tomorrow,” Lasica said. “What is important about Current TV is that it’s opening up the world a crack to Internet television becoming mainstream.”

Because America Online’s widely praised coverage of the Live 8 concerts less than a month ago proved a landmark in the acceptance of Internet television, Current runs one risk it could not have anticipated: potentially becoming obsolete just as it’s starting.

Unlike regular television, the Internet allows consumers to hunt specifically for material it wants to see and skip through it at their leisure, Mackenzie said.

But Lasica said lying on a couch still beats sitting at a desktop.

“Most people still want to watch television in the living room or the family room,” he said, “and that’s where Current TV has an advantage over any of the Internet startups.”

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