The announcement that Keith Olbermann will be moving to Current TV to become their “Head News Officer,” means more that Olbermann’s return to prime time television. Just as he was the defining voice that MSNBC prime time was built around. Olbermann will be looking to build the same type of progressive commentary block at Current, which means that MSNBC is about to get some competition.
In a conference call today, Olbermann talked about the need for independent media that is free of corporate interference, “Nothing is more vital to a free America than a free media, and nothing is more vital to my concept of a free media than news produced independently of corporate interference… None of this should be directed at my nine full-time previous employers — there is nothing wrong with people making money and corporations being involved in covering information – provided there is an avenue in which those marketing forces are not the deciding factor in what we are doing. Current is not only the leading independent network, it’s the only one. To underscore and support that is my great privilege.”
The impact that Olbermann will have on Current on the air will be immediate. Current only averages 23,000 prime time viewers right now. Although he won’t immediately reach his MSNBC numbers, Olbermann will easily increase that number exponentially.
Interestingly for Olbermann, the move doesn’t appear to be about viewership. Judging from his remarks and those of Current TV founders Al Gore Joel Hyatt today, Olbermann is there to build the network. Gore and Hyatt said that Olbermann is the first step in building a prime time commentary block. Olbermann’s equity stake in the company means that it will be his vision that builds the new Current prime time.
Current TV is so small that it won’t be competing with MSNBC anytime soon, but the presence of Olbermann gives the network, a star, an identity, and a brand. Olbermann should be able to help the network expand their reach beyond the 60 million homes that they are available in right now. He will also help draw advertisers to Current, and perhaps most importantly, Keith Olbermann might be able to help get Current upper tier channel placement no man’s land that they reside in.
Make no mistake about it. This is not an easy job. Olbermann and whoever joins him will be building the network from the ground up. Current has some good programming, but no identity. Olbermann will bring an identity, but it will mesh with Current TV? Current was a network that appealed to young progressive activists, but in 2010 Olbermann lost 25% of his younger viewers. The ratings show that Keith was beginning to appeal to an older audience, and it my guess that the new Current prime time will built with that audience in mind.
Right now Current is so small that they aren’t even included in Neilson’s daily ratings, but snagging Olbermann is nothing but positive for the network. For Olbermann, this is a chance to build a network without having to battle his bosses. This will be Keith’s vision done Keith’s way. At this stage of his career, Olbermann has found a home that will give him the freedom to do what he wants.
MSNBC viewers who have become increasingly disgruntled with the network should rejoice. The competition may be small, and hard to find on the dial, but it will be there. MSNBC should not be worried about Current and Olbermann today or tomorrow, but someday in the not too distant future they may look up and find their old friend Keith Olbermann marching their viewers to his new home.