Current TV Becomes Just Plain Current

Katherine Stevenson

Perhaps you heard about Current TV. The company gained a degree of notoriety when it was founded in 2005, thanks to the celebrity of its chairman Al Gore. He, along with his partner entrepreneur Joel Hyatt, began the independent media company to primarily serve the 18-34 age group, and apropos of the audience, Current TV programming involved the tight integration of the web and television, with content moving back and forth between the two.

As of yesterday, the company has rebranded itself Current . Far from signaling any diminished focus on television programming, the name change is meant to broaden the concept of Current’s integration message. Because, really, the company is about more than just TV. In fact, it serves as a worthwhile study in how the traditional paradigms for serving up news and entertainment can be re-imagined to form a viable business venture. It’s a lesson to ABC, CBS, and NBC, who in their struggle to maintain relevance with an audience that spends more and more time online, have largely resorted to moving the same essential viewing experience to a browser window, with perhaps the addition of public comments.

Here’s how Current works: The television programming (available through most major cable and satellite providers) consists entirely of non-fiction video segments, known as “pods,” that last just three to seven minutes in length. Many of the pods are created by Current’s own professional production teams that are stationed around the country and sent on national and international assignments to cover current events. But as much as 30 percent of the TV programming is created by the viewers, and is branded with the VC2 stamp, signifying “viewer-created content.” This public participation is made possible through the Current website. Here, you can access tutorials on how to make a pod that will pass the editorial process (an onsite music library even ensures that your soundtrack won’t run afoul of copyright law). Once uploaded to the website, the VC2 content is voted on by users, and the most popular pods make it to TV. Incidentally, Current now reaches more than 40 million homes in the U.S.

Users are even invited to make the commercials that are shown on Current’s network. Assignments for VCAMs (viewer-created ad messages) are posted on the website, along with sponsor-provided guidelines, logos, and assets. The winning entrant gets $1,000 and his or her VCAM shown on TV.

In another interesting act of integration, Current assumes that a majority of TV viewers will simultaneously be connected to a laptop, and thus the site serves up information that’s relevant to the TV program you’re watching. You can learn more about the creator of a given pod, access the creator’s other work, discover related content, post comments, etc. Everything on the site is linked via a system of tags and keywords.

There’s more to Current than the things I’ve mentioned, and it’s clearly designed to be a mutable entity that will continually evolve in accordance with the audience’s interests and participation. I’m just holding it up as an example of how media platforms and technology can be artfully mixed and melded, and I’m looking forward to seeing how other media companies help redefine our news and entertainment experience.

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