NEW YORK — Monday marks the debut of Current, a youth-oriented cable network whose arrival might have gone unheralded were it not for the identity of its chairman and co-founder: former vice president Al Gore. Anne Zehren, Current’s president of sales and marketing, is no stranger to the youth market: She was the founding publisher of Teen People magazine. Here’s what she had to say about starting a TV network and working with the man who, from the sound of things, is still winning the popular vote.
WWD: Tell us about Current.
Anne Zehren: It’s a network for and by 18- to 34-year-olds. Our point of difference is that we’re asking our viewers to submit content. About 25 percent of the content that you’ll see at launch will be from viewer submissions. The rest of it will be in the form of short-form, branded pods one to six minutes in length, with names like Current Style, Current Parenting, Current Hottie, Current Lies.
WWD: It seems as though the impulse behind the network was not primarily commercial.
A.Z.: It’s not. Obviously we want to be profitable, but we think the best way to get there is by connecting with our audience and giving that younger viewer something a little bit smarter, a little bit more courageous than what they might have available to them now.
WWD: How did you get involved with it?
A.Z.: I moved to California for love. I left Teen People and moved here because my husband lived here. He had a young child from a previous marriage, and I have a baby myself, a 19-month-old, so we decided San Francisco would be a good place to live. I believe Bob Pittman [former AOL Time Warner executive and a Current investor] contacted Al Gore and Joel Hyatt [Current’s co-founders] and told them I was living out here and we should get together.
WWD: What’s it like working with Al Gore? People are always saying how funny he really is.
A.Z.: He is totally funny. I think he’s sort of come into his own here. It’s much more relaxed; there’s a lot of young energy here. When I first went out to lunch with him, I was a little nervous. Afterward, we were walking down the street past this building under construction and all the construction workers started chanting his name. Every single elevator operator, receptionist and security guard wants to talk to him. He’s just very accessible and exuberant these days.
WWD: What’s the difference between working at Teen People and working in TV?
A.Z.: Both were start-ups, so there’s a similar sort of chaotic, high energy, working-long-hours vibe. The difference is TV is more sold as a commodity, whereas in the magazine business you’re selling more on a marketing concept and a brand. One of the things we’re trying to do is bring that whole brand concept here and adapt it to the TV world.