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Internet and the TV Revolution

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Former US vice-president turned Oscar-winning environmental campaigner Al Gore yesterday unveiled the British version of his Current TV network, claiming it was the first example of "television for the internet generation".

He said the new service, which relies on viewer-created content for more than a third of its schedule, marked a media revolution that would prove as pivotal as the invention of the printing press.

Current TV, which launched yesterday on the Sky and Virgin Media pay-TV platforms, is aimed at the 18- to 34-year-olds increasingly turning to the net, mobile phones and a myriad of digital channels to complement mainstream media habits.

Instead of a traditional schedule, programming is made up of various branded "pods" of three to eight minutes in length designed to be "snacked on".

Subjects may veer from a first person report from Somalia to a polemic on Britishness via coverage of a "guerrilla gardener" who plants flowers in public spaces, all interspersed with more conventional segments covering music, news and adventure travel.

Through a tie-up with Google, the channel airs a three-minute news bulletin every hour based on what users of the search engine are looking for.

Yesterday's example was somewhat at odds with the optimistic vision of democratic engagement espoused by Mr Gore, with the most searched-for topics including pictures of a naked TV presenter and a man who has sex with cars.

Other partnerships include a Lonely Planet travel guide and a project with the British Library that will encourage viewers to vote one video story per month into a "unique 12-month video snapshot of the UK", which will be preserved for posterity.

But it is the user-generated content that Mr Gore said would set Current TV apart. At least a third of the schedule will be culled from footage submitted by viewers through the broadcaster's website.

As in the US, viewers will be encouraged to visit the website to vote on which ideas should make the channel. If selected, they will be provided with assistance to improve their films for broadcast and paid for their efforts.

Mr Gore insisted the network would have no political or ideological bias and "the filter we impose is one of quality". But he added: "You will find a general set of assumptions in favour of tolerance and opposition to hatefulness towards any particular group. We will meet the standards you would expect of a TV service going into homes all over the UK and Ireland."

Current TV is available in 40m households in the United States and has received a broadly positive reaction, although it has yet to publish any viewing or revenue figures.

Critics claim it conveys a sanitised version of user-generated content as envisaged by babyboomer politicians and broadcasting executives, while others complain that it too closely adheres to the "youth TV" conventions established by MTV and others more than 20 years ago.

Other broadcasters, including the BBC and Channel 4, are working on their own plans to tap into the vogue for user-generated content.

Current TV's chief operating officer, Mark Goldman, said the network in the UK would have a domestic focus, but that the best viewer-created "pods" would also be shown around the world.

The UK launch is the first in a planned international expansion designed to create a "global conversation".

Mr Gore, who has taken on a high profile role as an environmental campaigner since making the global warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth, has been developing Current TV for more than five years and launched the US version 18 months ago.

He said it was part of a shifting media landscape in which the power of monolithic broadcasters was being challenged by the ability of individuals armed with cheap cameras and laptops to make their own films.

The channel's idents and even the advertising, with the blessing of relevant sponsors, are also viewer-created.

"It's compelling, it's entertaining and it's relevant. It's made by the people who are out there living their lives," he said.

"Decades ago television supplanted the written word. It was so interesting and magical that it took us a while to realise it was one way. Our democracies depend on a vibrant, multi-way conversation where new voices can be heard."

He said the network combined the interactivity of the web and the power of television.

Do you agree with Gore about the power of Internet TV. Will it expose some of the past political conspiracies?

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I have a subscription to sky sigital, so I will have the opportunity to view the channel. I am still unsure as to what format it will take and what the video quality will be like (presumably if people send footage via the net, there will be a loss of quality).

I can't really comment on how effective this channel will prove to be until I view it. I would think that organised hroups could mkae thier own videos and use their membership to promote the screening of a video. I would presume that the 9/11 turht movement will try to use this resource in some way.


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