MEDIA ANALYSIS: How to get airtime on Current TV

Current TV has won a lot of headlines following chairman Al Gore's promise to 'democratise television'. So, how can PR professionals engage with the new channel? Hannah Marriott assesses the opportunity.

Last week saw the UK launch of Current TV, the hotly anticipated channel founded by former US vice-president Al Gore and entrepreneur Joel Hyatt.

The launch, combined with the channel’s unusual format and its asso­ciations with Gore, has caused a stir.

Current TV – which has been available in the US since August 2005, and is now available in the UK on Sky and Virgin Media – describes itself as ‘TV for the internet generation’ and is aiming to win over the 18 to 34-year-old demographic. Director of programming James Dubern describes that audience as ‘sophisticated, intelligent and trend-setting’.

A third of Current TV’s content is produced by its audience. The most popular clips – or, in Current-speak, ‘pods’ – are aired on the channel, while the remainder of content is professionally produced.

‘Multi-way conversation’
As chief operating officer Mark Goldman said at the launch press conference last Monday, ‘the only filters are quality, and what is fascinating’. Unlike traditional broadcast media, he contended, this is a ‘dynamic, multi-way conversation where new voices are not shut out’.


Pod

Pods already created by Brits include one about ‘guerrilla gardening’, a short film about U2’s Bono and The Edge, and one person’s rant about Britain. Other content includes a half-hourly news bulletin badged Google Current, which shows viewers what people are searching for on Google, and a series of Lonely Planet travel guides.

'Limiting user-generated content may be more realistic for TV, as opposed to the model followed by less regulated media, such as YouTube.

 

'But it is a tricky balance. Braben chief executive Sarah Locke says: ‘There has been negative media comment over how much of the content is actually being produced by the TV-watching public and how much is actually coming from the professionals in the media and advertising industries.’

Another problem faced by the channel is the widespread assumption that it focuses on the issues associated with its famous founder – such as Democratic politics and climate change. But Gore is adamant that his personal concerns are not within the channel’s remit, insisting that ‘the content will reflect the diversity of the views of the audience’.

It is perhaps too early to judge the potential of Current TV. Launch Group head of entertainment Gary Wheeldon believes the channel has made more of an impact with business and trade media than with mainstream consumers. But he says that ‘as with any viewer-led medium it will grow organically from people’s use’.

He adds that coverage on the channel could suit youth brands, charities, music and DVD clients, and could help in ‘building communities’ around a brand, just as YouTube does.

 


Pod

Eulogy! MD Adrian Brady says it will be interesting to assess Current TV’s audience in a year’s time. ‘With raditional media – programmes such as Coronation Street or newspapers such as The Daily Telegraph – the audience does not tend to shift that quickly. But with new media, new audiences develop much faster.’

The process of submitting a pod is another matter. They should be three to eight minutes long and they can be uploaded via the channel’s website, www.uk.current.com.


Pod


PROs are welcome to make pods, but blatant plugs are not allowed.

‘We wouldn’t accept something that is obviously just an advert but we are interested in displaying the views of anyone who feels strongly about a subject or a cause – even if that means an organ­isation,’ says Current TV production manager, VC2, Emily Renshaw-Smith.

 

 

'Once the pods are submitted they will be vetted to ensure they are factual, short and not pornographic, before they are uploaded for the website’s users to view and rate.

‘There is no editorial judgement at that point,’ says Renshaw-Smith. ‘The users watch the pods and then green-light the ones they enjoy.’ Each week, the most popular are shown on the channel. Pods with relevance to a US audience may also be viewed on the American channel.

Zest Corporate Public Relations MD Marc Prema-Ratner is optimistic about the channel’s potential – but he warns PROs to be careful about the clients they put forward. ‘It could be a very influential outlet, as long as your brand matches the ethos of the channel and its audience – NGOs or charities would work well,’ he says.

Eulogy!’s Brady says: ‘Clients need to be very aware of what they are getting into with user-generated content – it is far more suited to challenger brands than established ones.’

What gets on?
Locke says audiences won’t appreciate brands ‘stomping all over this space’, noting that the channel has already been criticised for creating story-led advertising for brands.

She adds: ‘If, however, a brand has a genuine, relevant view about something, then Current TV should be
considered as a media outlet to target.’

Current TV’s Dubern says that as well as producing pods, there are opportunities for PR professionals to get involved with the content produced by his 30-strong editorial team. ‘We shoot pieces to camera, talking about cool stuff,’ he says. Pieces are labelled acc­ording to their subject, and include Current Art and Gadgets.Ideally, says Dubern, PROs should get in touch two or three weeks before an event – with the aim of the pod airing five days before the event.

The contact here is writer/producer Lisa James, but for other editorial ideas, PROs should approach Dubern.

If Current TV does attract the viewers, it will become an important outlet, as well as a vehicle for PROs to become more involved in content creation.

CURRENT TV CONTACTS - the people you should know...

Emily Renshaw-Smith Manager, development and production, VC2: E erenshaw-smith@uk.current.com

Lina Prestwood Creative executive: E lprestwood@uk.current.com

James Dubern Director of programming (for ideas about making pods): E jdubern@uk.current.com

Lisa James Writer/producer (for general editorial queries): E ljames@uk.current.com, T 07958 315 594

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