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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Olbermann Going to Current TV

UPDATE: 2/8/11 11:19 Olbermann Inks Deal.

Keith Olbermann, the former top-rated host on the news channel MSNBC, will announce his next television home on Tuesday, and people on Monday familiar with his plans pointed to a possible deal with the public affairs channel Current TV.

Mr. Olbermann, his representatives and executives from Current TV declined to comment on the move, but they did not deny that the channel, which counts former Vice President

Al Gore as one of its founders, will become at least one partner in Mr. Olbermann’s future media plans.

One of the people with knowledge of the plans said Mr. Olbermann would have an equity stake in Current TV. The people insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized by their employers to comment in advance of the official announcement.

On Monday a public relations agency hired by Mr. Olbermann scheduled a Tuesday morning conference call for an announcement about his next job. “He and his new partners will make an exciting announcement regarding the next chapter in his remarkable career,” the agency wrote in an e-mail.

Current TV has set up a presentation with advertisers for Wednesday afternoon in Manhattan to announce its future plans. The channel may be betting on Mr. Olbermann to put it on the cable map. The low-rated five-year-old channel needs the help. Targeting young people, it originally subsisted on YouTube-style submissions and video journalists. More recently it started producing and acquiring traditional television series, like repeats of “This American Life.”

Mr. Olbermann departed MSNBC in January after some stormy interactions with management, including a suspension for contributing to political candidates. The settlement of his contract precluded his joining another television outlet for an undetermined period of time, but an announcement of a future assignment on Current TV would presumably not violate the terms of that deal as long as he did not start until after the agreed-upon waiting period.

A move to Current TV would challenge Mr. Olbermann’s fans of his MSNBC show — where he drew about a million viewers a night — to follow him to a channel that is considerably less accessible. Current TV is available in only about 60 million homes, and is usually provided only on the digital tier of cable television systems, which requires a separate receiver. MSNBC, which is owned by NBC Universal, is available in 85 million homes and is almost always available as a basic cable entry.

But the addition of Mr. Olbermann, the former sports anchor who made himself a progressive star at MSNBC, would surely elevate the channel, bringing it attention it has never before received. The channel also wears its liberal politics on its sleeve.

With Current TV, Mr. Olbermann would also gain a measure of independence. Unlike most cable channels, including MSNBC, which are owned by large media companies, Current is privately and independently owned by Mr. Gore and other backers.

It is also possible that Mr. Olbermann will separately pursue other ventures, like an Internet destination.

Speculation has surrounded Mr. Olbermann since he abruptly left his job at MSNBC. He has been savoring the speculation, even posting a link on Twitter on Monday afternoon to a countdown clock for his announcement.

The abruptness of Mr. Olbermann’s departure last month suggested that he already had lined up another media job. The Internet domain name was registered two days before his televised goodbye. A few days afterward, he set up a new Twitter account, called "FOK" News Channel,” short for “Friends of Keith.”

The departure came just days before Comcast took control of NBC, leading some to suspect that he was forced out by Comcast — an assertion that the companies vigorously denied. Comcast owns a 10 percent stake in Current TV.