Austin startup eyes bid for struggling Current cable network
Nov 26, 2012 (Austin American-Statesman - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Move over, Longhorn Network. Another national cable TV channel might soon be headquartered right here in Central Texas.
SocialGood.TV, an Austin-based startup, has its eye on buying Current, the struggling network co-founded by former Vice President Al Gore, SocialGood.TV CEO Stephen Vogelpohl told the American-Statesman.
If a deal can be cobbled together, SocialGood.TV would most likely move Current to Austin and shift its left-leaning programming to a more middle-of-the-road focus, he said.
"Austin's a new-media city," Vogelpohl said. "We've been reaching out to stakeholders in the local film and digital industries and have gotten a lot of traction. They've done deals this size before and have a little experience with the media."
Those as-yet-unnamed stakeholders are set to meet in December, according to Vogelpohl, to discuss financials. It's too soon, he said, to discuss how many employees could be based here if Current relocates or where in town its headquarters might be located.
"As every day goes by, we get more and more interest from parties who want to make this happen," he said.
A sales price for Current would depend on several factors, including its Nielsen ratings, which are relatively low compared to many established cable networks. One example: The Travel Channel was valued at an estimated $975 million when it changed hands in 2009, according to Bloomberg. A lesser-known sibling network, Travel Channel International, went for $103 million this year.
SocialGood.TV has been operating in "stealth mode," Vogelpohl said, with a handful of employees working to create a video engagement platform for social causes. Current, however, presents an opportunity that "simply could not be passed up," prompting the startup to go public months earlier than it had initially planned.
Executives at Current, launched in 2005, began considering offers for the little-watched network this fall, according to published reports.
Representatives at Current didn't respond to a message from the American-Statesman seeking comment, but CEO Joel Hyatt told the New York Post in late October that Current "has been approached many times by media companies interested in acquiring our company. This year alone, we have had three inquiries. As a consequence, we thought it might be useful to engage expertise to help us evaluate our strategic options."
The network beams a lineup that includes shows hosted by former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, ex-Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, one-time San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and "The View's" Joy Behar into 71 million homes worldwide -- 60 million of them in the United States. Its 2011 ad revenue was an estimated $16.9 million, according to the Post.
If SocialGood.TV is able to mount a successful bid, Vogelpohl said the network's focus would likely shift away from politics to "causes outside of legislation."
"Making communities stronger isn't a left or a right issue," he said. "We'd want the programming to be more inclusive, educating through entertaining."
Mike Blizzard, head of Austin-based Blizco Productions, says he's been briefed on some of SocialGood.TV's ideas for Current, but isn't involved in attempts to purchase the network. So far, he says, he likes what he's heard.
"If they have the financial wherewithal to pull this off, then Austin would be the ideal place," Blizzard said. "It'd be positive for the community and the economy."
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