NEW ORLEANS - Former Vice President Al Gore plans to build a youth-oriented cable television network he hopes will become an independent voice in a media industry dominated by large conglomerates, he said on Tuesday.
Gore led an investor group that bought Newsworld International from Vivendi Universal for an undisclosed sum. He plans to relaunch the yet-unnamed channel to focus on public affairs and entertainment for 18-to-34-year-olds and it will not have a political affiliation.
Speculation has swirled that Gore would launch a network to counter Fox News Channel, which unseated CNN as the No. 1 U.S. cable news channel with a formula of combining hard news coverage with brash talk shows that some have criticized as conservative.
"This is not going to be a liberal network, or a Democratic network in any way, shape, or form," the former vice president said.
Rather, he said, the reason for buying the network was to create an independent source of information.
"The trend toward consolidation and conglomerate ownership, while understandable due to business dynamics, does present some problems for the American people," Gore said. "Having an independent voice is a very important value to safeguard."
Gore will serve as chairman of the new network and told Reuters he would be spending most of his time on the project.
"I will be extremely active in this venture and I will not hesitate to state a point of view on the issues that affect the industry," Gore said.
Gore made the announcement with business partner Joel Hyatt, who founded a chain of low-cost storefront legal clinics and is now a faculty member at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.
Hyatt, who will serve as CEO of the venture, said the network operates profitably, but would need significant additional investment to be relaunched.
Backers of the company, known as INdTV Holdings LLC, include venture capital firm Blum Capital and Yucaipa Companies, an investor in grocery stores headed by Democratic fundraiser Ron Burkle.
Other individual backers are a list of prominent Hollywood and Silicon Valley figures, including Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy, former Warner Home Video president Warren Lieberfarb and The West Wing actor Bradley Whitford.
Newsworld International has 17 million subscribers and is distributed on DirecTV, Time Warner Cable and in certain Comcast markets.
The network currently features 24-hour global news produced by The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, which Hyatt said would remain for the "forseeable future."
Gore and Hyatt gave little information on what would replace the current programing.
"It's going to be programing young people care about," Hyatt said. "The documentary is a format we'll use. We're going to use the comedic format. We're going to be irreverent. We're going to be bold."
Reports surfaced earlier last year that Gore was seeking financial backers to acquire Newsworld International, but Hyatt said the deal took almost a year to negotiate due to complications related to the sale of Vivendi Universal's other cable networks to GE.
Additional reporting by Kenneth Li in New York.
© Reuters 2004.