Current, the television network backed by Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore, is embarking on a new Internet strategy to enlist viewers in submitting video and commentary to create broadcast TV news.
The network, which already lets professional videographers submit video news segments, is going several step further on Monday by soliciting user feedback over the Web and converting submissions into online news as well as pieces for broadcast.
Its network programming runs on cable and satellite broadcasters in select U.S. markets, Britain and Ireland.
Current has embraced several of the most popular Internet trends in reconstituting its own site. Users, once they sign up, are encouraged to enhance Web pages devoted to specific topics, similar to the anyone-can-edit Wikipedia encyclopedia.
In introducing a new site for viewers and contributors at Current.com, the company claims it has created the first fully integrated online and television network that allows users to create and vote what news and information is relevant to them.
For years, the attempt to unite television and the Internet has basically been one of duplication of the content on another medium, said Current Chief Executive Joel Hyatt, a successful entrepreneur who co-founded the company with Gore.
In early tests, the company has encouraged users to create postings on topics, then upload photos, animation, embedded YouTube videos, cartoons, text comments and Webcam responses.
The 24-hour network is based in San Francisco's digital media district, home to Wired magazine and also new offices of leading Internet companies Google, MySpace and Yahoo.
In its first two years, the company's TV programming contained frequent references to online material, but its Web site at Current TV functioned largely as a place for a few thousand semi-pro or pro videographers to submit their works, learn new skills and collaborate in video editing efforts.
This is a new form of social media to create, engage with and influence the news and information that our users and their friends receive, Hyatt said. We wanted to create a TV platform we could share with the very best content creators.
More than two decades ago, Hyatt created a chain of low-cost legal clinics called Hyatt Legal Services.
Current's programming consists of short video programs, typically under 15 minutes in length, which the organization refers to as pods -- a reference to the combinatorial nature of each work -- assembled as it is from multiple contributions.
While adhering to professional broadcast standards in the main video pieces, Current encourages users to submit responses to the videos, which many do in bedroom confessional style, sitting in front of a computer Webcam at home, like YouTube.
A survey of Current users found 70 percent watch the programs while multi-tasking on a computer simultaneously. This multi-tasking reflects the target demographic of 18- to 34-year-olds, who are turning away from passive TV viewing.
This is about being more actively involved in the news, said Gartner analyst Mike McGuire, who has been briefed on the Current Internet-meets-TV plan. It presumes a pretty active consumer as opposed to a passive one, he said.
Is that mass audience behavior? Probably not, he says. The challenge is broadening the core audience for this.
Last month, the network won the first Emmy award for interactive television earlier this year.
New site features introduced on Monday are designed to give viewers a greater voice in media, while also giving them context on any particular piece of programming on the site. It does through various forms of voter feedback, giving sites users a role in what segments are selected for broadcast.