Cable network brings new brand of television to young adults

By Pat Brown

Former Vice President Al Gore, once chastised for remarks that seemingly implied he invented the Internet, has had a hand in the invention of another potential media revolution.

As chairman of the new cable network Current TV, he hopes to bring news and other topics of interest to the youth of America in a new way. He describes the network as, “the TV homepage for the Internet generation.”

Current TV, available to DIRECTV, Time Warner Cable and Comcast customers, is based around short-form programming. The shows on Current TV run between 15 seconds and five minutes, and cover a variety of topics, including international news, extreme sports and a segment called “Current Vernacular,” intended to update youth on modern slang.

Current TV compares the way the station cycles through its programming to an iPod shuffle. The “pods,” or segments, are played randomly, but the order in which they will be played can be found on the web at www.current.tv.

Viewers are even asked to donate their own videos, the best of which will be chosen to air both on the station and on the website. Officially deemed Viewer Contributed Content, or VC2, the donated segments are made by young people from around the world and cover a variety of subjects. “Current International: Iran Underground,” for example, is about the party lives of young adults in Iran, and includes footage of an underground ecstasy party – something some may be surprised to find exists in the country.

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    Yasmin Vossoughian, who directed the video, was appreciative of Current TV’s unique nature. “Current’s allowing me to tell my story, and allowing other people my age to tell their stories,” she said in a press release. “I wouldn’t have had this chance without a network that encourages the participation of its audience.”

    And that is just Current TV’s goal: to present information to young people they cannot find anywhere else, in a manner in which no one else presents it. Among the most original segments are features on popular internet blogs, modern subculture, pets, organized protests from around the world, jobs for young people and an awards segment that gives “special recognition to those who have done great, questionable, or infamous things.”

    Current TV has also formed a strategic partnership with Web-giant Google. The two modern media outlets combine for a segment called “GoogleCurrent,” which presents the news not in the traditional order, but by what young people are most frequently searching for on Google News.

    In the Champaign-Urbana area, Current TV is available only to DIRECTV customers, on channel 366. Ashley Klump, a senior in FAA and a DIRECTV customer, said, “I don’t watch TV that often, but when I do, I enjoy watching ‘The Real World’ and ‘Trading Spaces’ and things like that sometimes, so this sounds like something I might enjoy.”

    The short-form, reality-inspired format seems to genuinely attract the younger generation, including Christine Fleener, freshman in LAS, who gave her own short-form response, “Yes, please.”

    But Current TV’s future still seems somewhat uncertain. Its relatively limited availability, compounded with the stigma of introducing a new format, makes the level of its success unpredictable. MTV, which premiered 25 years ago and also introduced a new format, had limited availability at first, but grew to be one of the biggest cable stations in TV history.

    The press’ reaction to the new station has also been decidedly mixed. The Chicago Tribune has said that it is “mind-blowing and clueless,” while the New York Times has dubbed it, “the reason to stop laughing at Al Gore.” Considering that the one-time Democratic presidential hopeful is essentially in the driver’s seat, and that the initial concept for the network was to be a liberal response to Fox News, such debates over Current TV’s merit can be expected to rage for a considerable amount of time.

    The suspicion with which many will regard a cable network started by a former Democratic presidential candidate could be harmful. But with the help of its strong presence on the Web, both through its website and its partner Google, Current TV hopes to have a long, lucrative future.