If Keith Olbermann's rocky relationship with his new bosses at Current TV completely collapses, does the cable network have a plan B?
That's what cable industry analyst Derek Baine of SNL Kagan is wondering. In a Friday report, Baine notes that if Olbermann leaves, Current will be without its only big-name talent, the one it was banking on to help the channel compete with big boys CNN and MSNBC.
"Current will need to get its programming act together or it could face the possibility of being dropped by some distributors," Baine wrote.
The channel owned by Current Media Inc., founded by former Vice President Al Gore and entrepreneur Joel Hyatt, is trying to build its distribution from beyond the approximately 60 million homes in which is now available. Having Olbermann is part of that strategy. The hope is that he brings in viewers who then stick around for other new shows on the network, leading to greater distribution, more advertising dollars and a better platform to compete.
Current has already started building an evening lineup around Olbermann which, if successful, would likely ease some of Baine's concerns. "The Young Turks," featuring another MSNBC castoff -- Cenk Uygur -- is off to a strong start and scoring well with younger viewers. At the end of this month, former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm will launch her own prime-time political talk show.
"When you've got a show like 'The Young Turks' with an average [viewer] age of 47 -- 15 years younger than the other guys -- we think we've got a solid start in a great programming lineup," Hyatt said in response to Baine's concerns. In other words, Olbermann may be the straw that stirs the drink, but Current hopes to have a few other ice cubes in the glass.
For now, Olbermann appears to have made a tentative peace agreement with Current, with which he not only has a long-term deal, but a small ownership stake. One of his beefs -- the lack of high-tech sets -- is simply a matter of working for what is basically a start-up channel. Although Current has been around for several years, it only recently got into the live-programming game.
Current's next big push is to add shows in the morning and daytime, which will be crucial to boosting its distribution across the country. Some of the distributors that carry the channel want to see more of a commitment to fresh programming every day and have made that a condition of wider distribution.
-- Joe Flint
Photo: Keith Olbermann on his Current TV show. Credit: Current TV