June 15, 2011

Current's New Direction

Current TV Revenue
2005 24.5
2006 38.4
2007 57
2008 75.7
2009 87.1
2010 105.3

$105 Million – Current TV’s estimated annual revenue 

On June 20, Current TV, the six-year-old cable network founded by former Vice-President Al Gore and businessman Joel Hyatt, will introduce a high-profile addition to its programming. That is the night that Keith Olbermann, formerly the outspoken liberal host of MSNBC’s “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” will launch his nightly prime-time show on Current—infusing the low-rated network with some ideological star power.

As both host and chief news officer for Current, Olbermann will help chart a new direction for a network, which has been targeting a younger audience by combining traditional TV with elements of social media. Some of the programming is viewer generated or draws from user participation—such as “Bar Karma,” a TV series that uses viewer suggestions to determine the direction of coming shows. Media reports say Current is now planning a number of new prime-time programs and a Wall Street Journal story described the Olbermann hire as part of “Current TV’s crack at the big leagues.”

The young cable network is now available in 60 million households in the US and the bottom line seems to be moving in the right direction. According to data from SNL Kagan, a division of SNL Financial, LLC, Current was projected to generate $105.3 million in total 2010 revenues, a 21% increase from 2009 ($87.1). At the same time, Kagan estimates a 2010 profit margin of nearly 28%. 

But compared to the three major cable news networks, Current is still a small player. Fox News and CNN (whose figures include sibling network HLN) were projected to generate $1.5 billion and $1.2 billion in revenue respectively in 2010. MSNBC—Olbermann’s former home— is well behind the big two, at an estimated $382.5 million in revenue in 2010. But that accounting may not convey the full scale of MSNBC’s operation due to the fact that the cable network is part of NBC News, a powerhouse that PEJ estimated brought in upwards of $2 billion in 2010 from its various cable and broadcast outlets.