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By the people, for the people

Current TV has been providing viewer-created content for a year. What once seemed like a joke is now the one to beat.

Published August 1, 2006

LOS ANGELES - Just before Al Gore launched Current TV a year ago today, more than a few guffaws were heard throughout the industry. The idea of a young adult cable network consisting of viewer-created video "pods" and interactive ads seemed like a joke.

Nobody's laughing anymore.

"Obviously they didn't get what we were doing," says Joel Hyatt, chief executive and co-founder of Current TV. "Now ... the entire industry is copying us, how we are engaging our audience to contribute to the content they consume. Those executives that scoffed at us are now saying to their teams, 'Go figure out how to do what Current is doing.' "

In the year since the 24-hour network premiered, Current TV is seeing its model duplicated by major cable players MTV and VH1, and soon the new CW broadcast network.

"We really set out to be at the cutting edge," says Hyatt, "to be at the intersection of television and the Internet."

Nearly a third of Current's nonfiction programming, aimed at 18- to 34-year-olds, is derived from viewer contributions. Most of these pods are about five to nine minutes long, and viewers can select their favorites online for future play on the channel.

Currently, pod topics range from the renewed popularity of the Rubik's Cube to a first-person diary of an illegal immigrant in America. These "citizen journalists" have covered the streets of Iraq, the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina and, most recently, life in Beirut and the conflict in Haifa.

This summer, Current debuted its "Seeds of Tolerance" campaign, with the Third Millennium Foundation, which will award $100,000 to the producer of the best video on tolerance and understanding of diversity.

"There's too much happening in this world for us not to care and not to be involved," says Laura Ling, supervising producer of the channel's video journalism division.

Current recently signed a deal with Comcast Digital Cable that almost doubles the channel's reach, from its initial 17-million households to about 30-million. Advertisers like Sony and Toyota are latching onto viewer-created ad segments, called V-Cams.

To become the premier news and entertainment destination for the iPod generation, David Neuman, president of programming, admits, "We've got a long way to go. ... But we feel pretty good where we've gotten in a year's time."

[Last modified August 1, 2006, 05:44:29]

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