Al-Jazeera on Wednesday completed a deal to take over Current TV, the low-rated cable channel that was founded by Al Gore and his business partners seven years ago.
Current will provide the pan-Arab news giant with something it has sought for years: a pathway into American living rooms. Current is available in about 60 million of the 100 million homes in the United States with cable or satellite service.
Rather than simply use Current to distribute its English-language channel, called Al-Jazeera English and based in Doha, Qatar, Al-Jazeera will create a new channel, called Al-Jazeera America, based in New York. Roughly 60 percent of the programming will be produced in the United States, while the rest will come from Al-Jazeera English.
Al-Jazeera may absorb some Current TV staff members, according to people with knowledge of the deal who insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. But Current's schedule of shows will most likely be dissolved.
"Al-Jazeera is planning to invest significantly in building 'Al-Jazeera America,' a network focused on international news for the American audience," the Current chief executive, Joel Hyatt, said in an email to staffers on Wednesday evening.
Referring to Gore, he said, "Al and I will both serve on the advisory board of Al-Jazeera America, and we look forward to helping build an important news network." The plan will bring Al-Jazeera, which is financed by the government of Qatar, into closer competition with CNN and other news channels in the United States.
For Al-Jazeera, the acquisition is a coming-of-age moment. A decade ago, the Arabic-language channel was reviled by American politicians for showing videotapes and messages from al-Qaida members and sympathizers. Now it is acquiring an American channel.
To date, the country's cable and satellite distributors have been reluctant to carry Al-Jazeera English. It is available in just a handful of cities, including New York and Washington. To change that, Al-Jazeera has lobbied distributors, called for a letter-writing campaign by supporters and promoted its widely praised coverage of the Arab Spring.
Acquiring Current TV, and thus its distribution deals across the country, solves this dilemma for Al-Jazeera, at least partially.
Representatives for Current TV and Al-Jazeera did not immediately respond to requests for comment. There was no immediate word about the sale price.