Keith Olbermann makes his television comeback next week (on June 20) on Al Gore’s still nascent Current TV. Since launching in 2005 as a quasi public affairs cable network focused on user-generated content (including ads), Current has struggled to find a brand presence in the crowded TV universe, let alone stay current.
Now, the network is making a big-ticket bet that the outspoken Olbermann can draw an audience, lend more authority and news chops, and become the cornerstone of a sharper focus on hardhitting political commentary and news — a crucial repositioning as 2012 election coverage starts to gear up.
Now available in 60 million U.S. households, (as compared to Olbermann's previous home, MSNBC, which boasts 95 million homes), about 51,000 people on average tune into Current daily, according to market research firm SNL Kagan. The best laid user-generated hopes of former VP Gore and partner Joel Hyatt were immediately thwarted by the 2005 launch of YouTube.
The triumvirate of Olbermann, Gore and Hyatt are eager for Current to compete with CNN and MSNBC — taking up the role that MTV News once had of serving as the youthquake outpost of political commentary. Electoral interest can only help, as well as the general scramble for news outlets to be relevant and popular in a time of massive TV news shake-ups.
Olbermann is being treated very well, making a reported $9 million for the first in a five-year deal totaling $50 million (per the Wall Street Journal) for his title of chief news officer; he also now owns a stake, estimated between 2.5% and 5%, of the company.
Current's new crown jewel program, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, has a budget around $12 million and will air at 8 p.m. EST, with companion shows bookending at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., reminiscent of the model at MSNBC that gave Rachel Maddow her start.
In his tenure at MSNBC, Olbermann's audience grew from 350,000 to more than 1 million people. "When Keith first went on MSNBC eight years ago, the network was virtually dead, but the strength of Keith's show built MSNBC into what it is today, which is a very influential network," Hyatt told the WSJ.
Olbermann will have complete editorial control. "Our independence is a unique asset, particularly when it comes to news analysis and political commentary," added Hyatt. "Just the fact that we're not conglomerate-owned is a big deal, and the fact that when you have that editorial freedom, you answer to nobody but yourself."
And as every brand needs a representative logo, Current TV is rolling out a new (waving) flag logo, designed by Wolff Olins, with motion assistance by Ghava, on-air by loyalkaspar, and web design by Code and Theory.
Brand New's assessment of the new logo: “Conceived as a moving logo first and static logo second, the execution is dynamic, bold, and innovative without feeling like it’s trying hard to be cool and relevant. The black and white approach also gives it a sharp edge in contrast to all the colorful identities found on TV. The identity applications and on-air look are still limited but everything shows plenty of promise."
Promise is what Current TV now has, as well as a seasoned newscaster with an axe to grind." Keith is a game-changer for us. His show will not only bring us a lot of viewers who haven't watched Current before, but it will also serve as a driver of our company's future in a way that most other networks don't have right now," says Current CEO Mark Rosenthal — whose tenure at MTV should make him poised to re-engage America's youth with Olbermann at the helm.