At one end of the posh Windsor Court ballroom is Al Gore, relentlessly working the crowd of cable operators at an investment banker’s annual National Show soiree. He was in New Orleans to push his start-up cable network, Newsworld International. At the other end are cable executives, cackling over how they loathe Gore.
Not because they’re Republicans but because, as a U.S. senator, he championed price regulations that nearly crushed the industry. Now the ex-Veep needs those same operators to get his network rolling.
“It’s hysterical,” said a top executive at one major cable operator, watching Gore glad-hand. “This is a man despised by most of the people he needs.” Or as the CEO of another major operator puts it:
Gore and legal-services entrepreneur Joel Hyatt are buying Vivendi Universal Entertainment’s Newsworld International (NWI) and plan to relaunch it as a new network for twentysomethings, replete with current events. Reports peg the channel’s price tag at $70 million.
NWI comes with 17 million subscribers. Most receive it via DirecTV, and the contract with the Rupert Murdoch-controlled satellite service is set to expire. Obviously, Gore needs to build his subscriber base. Which is why MSO execs are smirking.
Renewing his deal with DirecTV will take some slick maneuvering, too. Word in the industry is that Gore and his partners will play the “fair and balanced card” with Murdoch and crew. “Does Murdoch really want to be the one who says no to Gore TV?” asks the president of a major cable network. “Gore still has clout in Washington, and there are a lot of people who think Murdoch controls too much.”
The strategy sounds familiar to cable execs who have already been approached by Gore’s team. In meetings to raise equity for the channel, two industry execs say Gore TV had a recurring mantra: Supporting the channel financially now could pay. Like when they’re lobbying Democratic legislators.
Rupert, are you listening? His fellow cablers are.
Gore drove the 1992 Cable Act into law, derailed two giant mergers, chopped the valuation of cable systems by billions, and plagued operators for years. Who can forget Gore’s calling then-cable kingpin John Malone head of the “cable Cosa Nostra” and “a monopolist bent on dominating the television marketplace”?
Is Gore worried that it's payback time? “That’s not what they’re telling me,” he says. “This channel will succeed on its merits. It isn’t about my politics.” Or maybe it is.