Qatar-based broadcaster Al-Jazeera has upped its presence in America by buying the struggling cable channel founded by former US vice-president Al Gore.
Al-Jazeera said it would use the acquisition of Current TV to launch a new US-based news channel. The deal means Al-Jazeera will be available in more than 40 million US households, up from 4.7 million previously.
The group said its latest New York-based news channel would be separate from al-Jazeera English, and would provide both domestic and international news for American audiences. It will launch later this year.
The terms of the sale were not disclosed, but analysts estimated Current could be worth as much as $500 million (£310m).
The deal brings Al-Jazeera, which operates under the patronage of the emir of Qatar and his family, into closer competition with American news channels such as CNN, Fox and MSNBC.
Current was founded in 2005 by Gore and Joel Hyatt, but its ratings were consistently disappointing. A shift to a more liberal stance in 2011 failed to lift viewing figures.
Its average daily audience is estimated to be under 50,000, despite being distributed in about 60 million of the 100 million homes in the US with cable or satellite service. One of its distributors, Time Warner Cable, which accounted for about 12 million of those homes, announced on Wednesday it was dropping Current with immediate effect. It did not give a reason.
Al-Jazeera, which is seen in more than 260 million homes in 130 countries, has money to spend as it tries to build a successful offering in the US. But analysts said the award-winning channel faces hurdles with US viewers who remember its stridently anti-war reporting of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Jimmy Schaeffler, pay TV consultant at the Carmel Group, said: “Al-Jazeera has deeper pockets. The downside is the politics. People in America associate Al-Jazeera with the Muslim word or the Arab world and they have problems with that.”
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