Cable television upstart Current Media Inc. plans to go public later this year, giving investors a chance to assess the entrepreneurial skills of its co-founder, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.
In documents filed Monday, the San Francisco-based owner of the Current TV cable channel set a preliminary fundraising target of $100 million for the initial public offering of stock. The final amount will probably change after Current Media's investment bankers gauge the demand for shares in the company.
The level of investors' interest also will help determine the price of the shares sold in the IPO. Although a specific timetable wasn't spelled out in the prospectus, Current Media said it hopes to complete the IPO by early May so it can repay a large debt due then.
Current Media is still small with just $64 million in annual revenue, but Gore's involvement ensures the company's IPO will attract plenty of attention.
Gore helped create Current Media in 2002 and still plays a prominent role as a major shareholder and the company's executive chairman.
Although Monday's filing didn't provide a complete breakdown of Current Media's outstanding stock, the documents disclosed that Gore and his family own at least 3.7 million shares.
Current Media also paid Gore $1.05 million last year, including a $550,000 bonus for the first four months of 2007. The company said it still may give Gore an additional bonus to cover his accomplishments for the final seven months of the year.
The filing stressed that Current Media considers Gore indispensable. "If Mr. Gore were no longer actively involved in our business or no longer to hold a substantial ownership stake in us, our relationships with key distributors and our business could be materially and adversely affected," the documents said.
The company's political connections extend beyond Gore. San Francisco financier Richard Blum, the husband of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, sits on Current Media's board and owns 1.5 million shares of the company's preferred stock.
The IPO represents one of the biggest tests of Gore's business acumen since he lost the 2000 presidential election to George W. Bush in a showdown that went to the Supreme Court.
In the past seven years, Gore has branched out in Silicon Valley, while also waging his Nobel Prize-winning fight to curb the environmental damage caused by fossil fuels.
In 2001, Gore became a senior adviser to Internet search leader Google Inc., which now contributes content to Current Media. He joined Apple Inc.'s board of directors in 2003 and late last year became a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, one of the world's best-known venture capital firms.
Gore has been trying to establish an alternative media outlet with Current TV, which relies heavily on content submitted by its viewers in an effort to build a following among teenagers and young adults. The programming includes news stories submitted by aspiring journalists, political satire and updates about the latest in music.
The cable channel now reaches 51 million U.S. households, up from 19 million when it first started 2 1/2 years ago. Late last year, Current also launched a Web site to cater to viewers looking for a more interactive experience while they watched the cable channel.
The formula hasn't yielded a profit yet.
Current Media has amassed losses totaling $31.9 million, including a $17.1 million setback last year. Adverstising accounts for 16 percent of Current Media's revenue, with the remainder coming from fees paid by cable and satellite television carriers.
To make money, Current Media probably will need to boost its coverage to somewhere between 70 million and 90 million U.S. households, estimated Paul Kagan, chief executive of consulting firm PK Worldmedia Inc.
"They still have a lot to prove," Kagan said. "Graduating to that next tier could be difficult."
Because it operates only one channel, Current Media doesn't have as much negotiating clout with cable and satellite TV carriers as larger rivals like Viacom Inc. and Walt Disney Co., said Natixis Bleichroeder analyst Alan Gould.
Kagan thinks Current Media should have waited longer to pursue its IPO, but the company's timing may have been driven by its desire to repay a $30 million debt owed to Dylan Holdings, an affiliate of NBC Universal, by May 4.
Current Media's total debts are expected to rise from $36.5 million at the end of last year to a projected $43 million in May. The company's debt include a $1 million loan from Gore.
Current Media ended 2007 with $2.2 million in cash.