Monday, February 07, 2011

Olby's New Gig?

Deposed MSNBC host Keith Olbermann may be back on the air before you know it.

Bill Carter and Brian Stelter, who write The New York Times "Media Decoder" blog, reported earlier today that Olby is going to Current TV, Al Gore's struggling cable operation.

Neither Mr. Olbermann, his representatives, or executives from Current TV would comment on the move, but they did not deny that the channel, which counts former Vice President Al Gore as one of its founders, will become at least one partner in Mr. Olbermann’s future media plans.

One of the people with knowledge of the plans said Mr. Olbermann would have an equity stake in Current TV. The people insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized by their employers to comment in advance of the official announcement.

On Monday a public relations agency hired by Mr. Olbermann scheduled a Tuesday morning conference call for an announcement about his next job. “He and his new partners will make an exciting announcement regarding the next chapter in his remarkable career,” the agency wrote in an e-mail.

Despite the attempted hype, Olbermman's new job is a definite step down, even from the low-rent neighborhood of MSNBC. While Current claims to be in 70 million homes, you'd be hard-pressed to find it on your local cable system (look somewhere above channel 500).

Current's audience is equally-hard-to-find. The cable network has been under pressure to being using Nielsen ratings system and disclose the number of viewers who actually tune in. Wags suggest that if the Gore Channel followed that advice, they would be in real trouble, because advertisers generally don't buy spots on networks with an audience "in the dozens."

Current has also had its share of financial woes; while the network claims it made money in 2010, but Gore and his principal investor, Joel Hyatt, have been shopping the channel for the past two years. The former Vice President tried to sell it to Google (and any other company with a media connection), but all took a pass--they found the asking price ($400-500 million) was just a bit absurd. Current was also forced to cancel plans for an IPO; they blamed market conditions but it's also clear that Wall Street wasn't exactly lining up to buy stock in a failing cable channel.

Enter Olbermann. He will certainly give Current a "marqee" name and bring a few more eyeballs to the network. In exchange, he will be the network's highest-paid host and receive an equity position in the operation. No word on how much Mr. Olbermann will invest in the network but he'll have to work very hard to get a return on his investment.

Still, there may be hope for Olby and his new partners, particularly in light of the AOL-Huffington Post deal. AOL, whose market capitalization has dropped eighty-fold in a little over a decade, is shelling out $300 million for Ms. Huffington's money-losing, leftist blog. If Current can hang in there a little while longer, they might find an investor (read: sucker) willing to buy the channel.

Don't hold your breath.

ADDENDUM: Now the "rest of the story," as Paul Harvey used to observe. One reason Olbermann is going with Current is because he's literally run out of potential employers among the major broadcasters. By our count, Olby has been fired by most of them over the past 30 years. He was canned by CBS while working as a sportscaster for their Los Angeles TV station back in the 1980s; Olbermann was also deposed by ABC/ESPN (he's the only former SportsCenter anchor who has never been invited back to Bristol for network reunions); he was dumped by NBC from both its election coverage and political coverage, and was fired twice by MSNBC--no mean feat.

We've also heard that Olby was canned from another LA gig (at KTLA) and WCVB-TV in Boston. Using an analogy from his favorite sport (baseball), Olbermann is pretty much batting 1.000 when it comes to getting fired. We'll give him two years at Current before the network runs out of money, or Keith wears out his welcome.

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