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Last Updated: Monday, 12 March 2007, 17:45 GMT
The TV channel without programmes
By Kevin Young
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

A TV channel co-founded by former US Vice-President Al Gore, which relies heavily on its audience to supply its content, has launched in the UK.

But Current TV - running in the US since 2005 - will not broadcast programming in the traditional sense, showcasing instead short films created by the public.

So what will viewers actually see when they tune in?

A screen grab from Google Current on Current TV
The channel counts down Google's top search results twice an hour
Imagine you asked a dozen strangers to make a short video describing an unusual aspect of their life, an interest of theirs or a person they considered noteworthy.

Then imagine you watched all 12 films in a row, knowing neither what was coming next nor if it would capture your attention.

This is roughly how it feels to watch an hour of Current TV.

There are several telltale signs that the channel is aimed at impatient young people, or "a media-grazing audience", as one of its executives puts it.

'Shuffled'

Firstly, each "pod" - there are no programmes in the traditional sense - lasts an average of three to eight minutes.

A bar on the screen shows how long has elapsed since that "pod" began, and when the next one is coming along.

A screen grab of Super News spoof The Oval Office, from Current TV
One of the regular segments is the satirical animation Super News
And the scheduling is entirely random - or "shuffled", to use the broadcaster's own word - so you never know what to expect.

So far, so iPod - although the management was very careful to avoid references to Apple's iconic portable media player at a news conference to launch the channel.

This random nature means that a satirical animation parodying news events is scheduled beside footage of a "guerilla gardener" who plants flowers at the dead of night to enliven run-down parts of London.

And a hard-hitting interview with a Kenyan prostitute, struggling to feed her children, is followed by "a day in the life" of The Edge, specially filmed by the guitarist's U2 bandmate Bono.

Chart

The main structure to the schedule comes from a mini-chart show every half an hour, which counts down the most popular terms from online search engine Google.

These can revolve around serious topics - the most-read stories on Google News that day, for instance - but at other times, they are more light-hearted, focusing on a particular term linked to topical events.

Some 'pods' might only have a life of an airing or two on the network, and some will air dozens of times over a lengthy period of time. It just depends how popular they are
David Newman, President of Programming, Current TV

If Current TV had been running when Forest Whitaker won his Oscar for acting, you imagine it would have dedicated one of the segments to Google's most popular forests.

"And at number three, it's Nottingham Forest..." - you get the idea.

The other thing which viewers should notice about Current TV is how modern it is - or rather, how current, according to its strong, on-screen branding.

The network's name is wrapped around every possible slot, so the Google link-up is known as Google Current and films about serious, topical issues appear under the News Current banner.

People with strong views can be heard on Current Rant, while those describing their unusual interests or activities come under the term Current Maverick. Currently, anyway.

'Fresh material'

Mr Gore, who was heavily involved in the creation of the channel, believes his programming team will not struggle to fill airtime.

"I don't think you'll have the experience of thinking, 'that's repeating too often', because they're going to be tuned in to that.

Al Gore
Al Gore's Current TV has doubled its US reach in a year to 39m homes
"Traditionally cable and satellite programming has had a higher repeat rate but there's so much fresh new material," he told the BBC News website.

And the schedulers can quickly arrange the output "according to what they think the British public wants to see", adds David Newman, the channel's president of programming.

"Some 'pods' might only have a life of an airing or two on the network, and some will air dozens of times over a lengthy period of time. It just depends how popular they are."

The opening flurry of material on offer looks promising.

Now the channel must wait to see if this "democratisation" of television proves a hit with UK audiences.

And viewers will be hoping for a consistency in the quality of material offered - ironic, perhaps, for a channel so reliant on unpredictability.

Current TV is available in the UK on Sky Digital channel 229 and Virgin Media channel 155.


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