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Gore's Current TV hopes to spark interest in young viewers

NEW YORK -- Much of the talk around Al Gore's new Current TV network has been broadly philosophical, like the former vice president's statement that ''we want to be the television home page for the Internet generation."

With its debut today, Current TV will be judged by the same mundane standards as other networks -- on whether its programming can hold a viewer's interest.

Gore and his fellow investors envision Current as a sounding board for young people, a step beyond traditional notions of interactivity. They want viewers to contribute much of the network's content now that high-quality video equipment is widely available.

Based on material previewed on its website, Current at first glance seems like a hipper, more irreverent version of traditional television newsmagazines.

Most of its programming will be in ''pods," roughly two to seven minutes long, covering topics such as jobs, technology, spirituality, and current events. An Internet-like on-screen progress bar will show the pod's length.

Its short films include a profile of a hang glider and a piece on working in a fish market. One contributor talked about what it was like to have his phone number on a hacked Internet list of Paris Hilton's cellphone contacts, saying that dealing with curiosity seekers was like ''hosting your own radio call-in show."

Every half-hour, Current promises a news update using data from Google on stories most frequently searched for on the Web.

''We have no illusions about the fact that our product has to be compelling," said David Neuman, Current's programming director. ''We also believe it has to be unique."

Despite suspicions created by his former profession, Gore promises the network won't be advancing a political point of view.

''I think the reality of the network will speak for itself," he told reporters in Los Angeles two weeks ago. ''It's not intended to be partisan in any way and not intended to be ideological."

Gore's name may help attract the curious, at least initially.

''People may not have heard of Current TV, but they will have heard that Al Gore has a television station," said J.D. Lasica, cofounder of Ourmedia.org and an expert on digital media.

Gore's team bought the former Newsworld International channel to ensure it has at least some initial distribution.

About 20 million homes (out of about 110 million nationally) will get Current TV right away. Success depends on more than doubling that within a couple of years, said analyst Mark Mackenzie of Sanford Bernstein.

To do that, Current must successfully straddle the rapidly changing worlds of television and the Web.

''Current TV is important not for what it is today as for what it heralds tomorrow," Lasica said. ''What is important about Current TV is that it's opening up the world a crack to Internet television becoming mainstream."

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