April 7, 2005

Al Gore Grows Up, Downsizes

Filed under: Climate Politics

For years, former Vice-President Al Gore has dreamed of his own TV station. And, on August 1, his new network, dubbed Current, will take to the airwaves.

Current marks the culmination of years of effort, and a great deal of growth beyond his earlier attempt. Back in 1998, Gore proposed a television channel that would provide a constant image of the sunlit earth. At the bottom of the screen, various environmental statistics (all bad, no doubt) would scroll by. The station was needed, Gore said, because, “with global warming a growing concern, and with problems like El Niño causing growing concern, this will be of tremendous value.”

Only problem is that there wasn’t any satellite that could do this. Weather satellites, parked at 22,500 miles are “geostationary,” meaning that they fall around the earth at a speed that keeps them over a constant spot. This is very good for monitoring storms, but the images oscillate through night and day.

Gore’s failed station would have required a whole new satellite, put at a point about a million miles away (four times further than the moon), in order to provide a constant-sun image. Taxpayers actually built the thing, called Triana, but it’s been cooling its jets since 2000 (literally), in storage at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. Triana was designed for launch by the late Space Shuttle Columbia.

Gore, who has called environmental issues such as global warming the “central organizing principle for civilization,” has now moved on to Plan B, i.e., Current.

In a mirror-image of his 2000 campaign, Current specifically eschews depth, presenting information as “pods” (Gore’s word), from 15 seconds to five minutes in length. One can’t help but be reminded of his 1988 presidential bid, where he demanded that ABC’s David Brinkley provide him his “full 30 seconds” so he could comprehensively explain the Middle East.

But it won’t be political. Gore says “We have no intention of creating a Democratic channel, a liberal channel, a TV version of Air America.” Instead, he said Current is “about empowering this generation of young people in their 20s to engage in a dialogue of democracy.”

The key here is downsizing. Programming president David Newman says it is directed towards “an audience of media grazers, and we decided to create a network that didn’t fight that but facilitated that.”

At their press-conference-rollout in San Francisco on April 4, Current announced its main subject areas would be “parenting, technology, fashion, music, politics, the environment and relationships,” obviously subjects that will do very well in 15-second (or, for that matter, five minute) soundbites.

We shall see. But at least Gore isn’t shaking down taxpayers any more for his own propaganda channel. Instead, it has backing from Senator Dianne Feinstein’s husband, Richard Blum, and Sun Microsystems founder Bill Joy. Al’s doing it the old-fashioned way, with up-front money from investors.

Congratulations, Al! Now we’ll get to see how the market deals with the too-hip. Who knows, maybe you’ve found your niche, your own channel populated by a universe of “full 30 seconds.” Surely this will help to solve every problem, from the demanding time-allocations of moms and pops, to global warming civilization’s “central organizing principle.”

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