Olbermann says new primetime show will be heightened version of “Countdown” — and Current hopes he’ll bring the same ratings boost he did to MSNBC
Stressing the need for alternatives to news produced by large corporations, Keith Olbermann says he will join Current TV with an "amplified" version of "Countdown."
He announced the new, one-hour, five-nights a week show Tuesday in a conference call with Current co-founder Al Gore, who said the small network was both profitable and "the perfect home for Keith Olbermann." Olbermann will take an equity stake in Current, but did not disclose its size.
Both men acknowledged Current is available to far fewer viewers than MSNBC — it averages 23,000 viewers nightly, compared to more than 1 million for "Countdown" — but stressed that they expect Olbermann to help grow the network, as he did MSNBC.
Gore said Current is in as many households as MSNBC was at the time "Countdown" debuted — which MSNBC almost immediately disputed.
Olbermann said Current was now available in 60 million homes domestically, compared to 58 million U.S. homes for MSNBC in May 2003, soon after the debut of "Countdown." MSNBC said it was available in 78 million U.S. homes at the time. (Expect this story to be updated soon with official numbers from Nielsen.)
Olbermann will executive produce his show, which will begin airing in spring from studios in New York. Olbermann will also become Current's chief news officer, a role that will involve giving his input on all the show's news broadcasts.
The announcement came just over two weeks after Olbermann abruptly exited "Countdown" on MSNBC, a company with which he had occasional tension, including over his suspension following his campaign contributions to Democratic candidates.
Gore said Olbermann and other Current employees are allowed to make such contribitions.
"Freedom of speech includes the ability to donate to candidates of your choice as a news and information organization," Gore said. "We also believe that full disclosure of that is important."
Olbermann agreed: "It's absolutely justifiable and our obligation to the viewer is to disclose."
Both he and Gore stressed the importance of independent news reporting — hinting at Olbermann's past discomfort with his corporate bosses at MSNBC, Fox, and elsewhere. Olbermann declined to comment on his exit.
Olbermann told TheWrap during the call that there is nothing wrong with large corporations producing news "provided there is also an avenue in which those purely market forces are not the deciding factors in what we're doing here."
He added, "Current is not merely the leading independent news and information network in television in the United States, but it really is the only one. And to underscore and to support that is my great privilege."
Olbermann said he had never felt pressure from past corporate employers to censor broadcasts, and declined to criticize any of them. But he said he wanted more freedom.
"To continue to do a better job of what I think my job is … required an opportunity to work in a much more pristine environment."
He also said he had no plans to launch an online media outlet in the vein of The Huffington Post, but said he did expect his new show to have an online presence. Asked for his response to the sale of the Huffington Post to AOL, he said he was more focused on his own new venture but that he hoped Arianna Huffington would join him on the air.
"I hope we have her involved in this program as a contributing guest," Olbermann said.