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Wild Card: Olbermann and Current TV

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Twenty-four hours after setting keyboards clacking with the news that he would be running herd on all news operations at Al Gore’s Current TV, Keith Olbermann pulled a Claude (The Invisible Man) Rains.

On the morning of Feb. 9, the splenetic anchor was conspicuously absent from the dais at New York’s Paley Center for Media, where Gore and a clutch of cable TV vets took the wraps off the network’s 2011-12 development slate for a small cohort of journalists.

In a way, Olbermann’s absence was emblematic of Current’s now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t status as one of basic cable’s most promising, yet obscure assets. Despite a fairly high-profile launch in 2005, the channel has struggled to define itself.

Two years after going live in some 20 million U.S. households, Current was still mired in a virtual backwater, failing to gain traction with its loop of user-generated programming and netting just $9.92 million in calendar-year ad sales revenue.

For the sake of comparison, that same year Olbermann’s former home base, MSNBC, was available in 91.1 million homes and hauled in $161.6 million in ad sales.

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