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Current TV's cuts acknowledge a strategy that didn't catch fire

November 11, 2009 | 11:57 am

Less than three months after taking over as chief executive of Current TV, former MTV Networks President Mark Rosenthal has decided the network's short-form programming approach is a non-starter. The cable channel, which was founded by Al Gore and got national attention last summer when two of its reporters were held and later released by North Korea, has laid off almost 25% of its staff and is changing its programming strategy.

Gone is programming chief David Neuman, who had been with Current since it launched in 2005. Another 80 staffers are also leaving the network, primarily in its Los Angeles production facilities. Current is available in about 55 million homes worldwide.

When Current was in development, Gore said he was targeting the ages 18-to-34 demographic with a goal of connecting "the Internet generation with television in a brand new way." The network's strategy was to rely heavily on content that would be generated by its audience.

Now, though, the channel is going with a more traditional format of half-hour and hourlong news shows. It is also scaling back on its in-house productions and will look to acquire shows. Current Chief Operating Officer Joanna Drake Earl said she thinks the network "can build a bigger audience with more traditional formats." She added that the moves had nothing to do with the financial health of the network. Current, she said, will have earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) of more than $10 million this year.

The network, which was acquired for $70 million from Vivendi by an investment group headed by Al Gore and entrepreneur Joel Hyatt, has struggled to grow its distribution. Part of the problem, besides a lack of popular shows, is that it is not part of a bigger media company that has leverage to build its reach.

-- Joe Flint

Related Post: Current cuts 80 jobs and will reformat network

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