Al Gore and his business partner Joel Hyatt have officially announced the summer launch of their new cable and satellite network. The creators of “current.tv” envision it as a news and information outlet specifically for young people and by young people. Programming chief David Neuman explains to Brooke how the network will embody the ideals of citizen journalism.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Over a year ago, when Air America was launching a left wing antidote to right wing talk radio, there were also murmurings about Vice President Al Gore starting a cable news channel to be a liberal antidote to right wing cable news, a la Fox. Well, last week, the press release finally came forward. Gore's channel is called Current, and it will launch in August. Gore will be the chairman, and investor Joel Hyatt will be CEO. But conspicuously absent from the literature was talk of progressive politics. It seems that Current is not focusing on the left at all, but rather on the young - those elusive 18 to 34 year olds who seem to deflect all attempts to send news and information their way. Programming chief David Neuman joins me now. David, welcome to OTM.
DAVID NEUMAN: Thank you. It's nice to be here, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Could you just lay out the general concept behind Current?
DAVID NEUMAN: Sure. The general concept behind Current is that we're the network about what's going on for young adults, in their voice and from their point of view. And once upon a time, even 15 or 20 years ago, to do something in their voice and from their point of view, you would sort of have to artificially construct that. But today, that audience that we're serving has the means, the technical and creative means to participate with us in making this network for themselves.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It sounds sort of like an 18 to 34 directed public access channel.
DAVID NEUMAN: Well, if it looks bad, that's what people will think it is. [LAUGHTER] If it looks good, it will look like you have just this amazing new form of content provider which are the best and the brightest of all the digital revolutionaries out there with cameras and compelling stories to tell, mixed in with professionally produced content that is also designed to appeal to that audience.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So, are you talking about regular programs or documentaries or chats or what?
DAVID NEUMAN: Well, our entire network is going to be in short form, so think of it as like the structure of the original MTV, but instead of videos that are just about music, there's videos that cover the whole range of the young adult audience. We're calling them pods. They're like little tiny shows that might be two minutes to six minutes in length, and those shows are put into our programming lineup sort of like the iPod shuffle - they come up kind of at random, and they go from subject to subject to subject, but because they're in short form, that means that they are uniquely well suited to viewer contribution. So, for instance, we have a career segment that we're calling Current Gigs, and if our audience wants to make a segment for us, they can do it. In other words, a contributor could send us, upload us a tape that is intended to be broadcast as a part of that particular pod. And it might be, for instance, somebody who has a really extraordinary job and showing the audience what that job is all about.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What kind of vetting are you going to do of the content that comes in from outside?
DAVID NEUMAN: The first line of filtration will actually happen by the audience themselves. In other words, our viewers will be able to go on line and look at all of the different short video segments that are uploaded to our website, and they can rate and evaluate them themselves. And then the stuff with the highest scores bubbles up and gets our attention and gets on the air. But we do intend to exercise our own judgment as well. In other words, we might look at something that we think was overlooked and deserves to be on the air, and go ahead and, and put it on the air.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It sounds like you're arranging this sort of like American Idol - they get to vote on them, and then, as the judges, you get to throw one in that was overlooked.
DAVID NEUMAN: Yeah, I think American Idol is in the gene pool of this network. We love that. I think we think of that as a form of democratizing the television medium that we think is a cool thing.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But are they really going to be informed about the world with this, or is that not part of your intention? I mean there are some people, and many of them work in the news business, who know more than ordinary civilians do, and presumably, the value of news is that that expertise gets used and transformed into usable information.
DAVID NEUMAN: We're actually very ambitious about news as a part of our content mix. A lot of what we want to do is not sort of repeat the same stories but to cover all the other interesting stories in the world that are overlooked. In our pilot process, we did a story about hip hop music in Sierra Leone. We're very ambitious about stories like what's happening in Sudan. In our pilot, we also had a story about illegal drug cultivation in Myanmar. We want to actually have international news be a, an important component of the programming mix, but we want to do it in a way that's compelling and interesting to this audience.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: David, I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but you know two of the three examples you gave had to do with illegal drug cultivation and hip hop music. And the thing is, there's always been a concern that kids aren't interested, young people aren't interested in the news, but is it because they're not hearing about the subjects they care about or because the stories they ought to care about aren't being told well?
DAVID NEUMAN: By the way, my referencing Sierra Leone and the Myanmar stories really might be reflective of, you know, what I'm interested in, but the reality is that we aren't selecting subjects according to - oh, our audience is interested in drug use, and therefore that's what we should focus on. We're looking for compelling stories from around the world.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I do have a question, though, about your reference to MTV. It's frequently been said that, you know, young people don't have a long attention span. Aren't you opening yourself up to charges of patronizing them?
DAVID NEUMAN: Well, I think that we have to do the opposite, which is we have to respect the audience, first and foremost. Actually, if we think a story warrants more time being spent, we'll figure out how to spend more time on that story. But I think your point in general is well taken. MTV is a reference that I made so that you understand maybe the structure of a short form network, but not necessarily the implication about the substance of what they're doing. They're doing an entertainment network. We're doing something different. We're doing something that has a, a much greater news and information component. We would like to also be a very smart network. We would like to be something that appeals to the highest common denominators in the audience and not the lowest.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: All right. David, thank you very much.
DAVID NEUMAN: Thank you so much, Brooke. It was nice being on your show.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: David Neuman is the programming chief of Current, which will launch in August.
BOB GARFIELD: Coming up, General Motors gets mad and pulls its ads from the L.A. Times, and Michael Jackson is no longer the king of scandal.