Al Gore is complaining that News Corp. plans to kick his Current TV off the Sky Italia pay-TV platform for political reasons, but News Corp. said Friday that the decision was commercial.
Gore, an activist and former U.S. vice president, called the decision "unusual and completely unexpected" and said it was made by News Corp. in response to Current TV's launch of a new U.S. program with Keith Olbermann, who has been critical of the media company owned by Rupert Murdoch.
Gore appealed in appearances on Italian media this week for viewers to use emails and letters to protest the decision to drop Current TV at the end of the month, after its three years on Sky Italia.
News Corp. said the decision was "purely commercial" and took into consideration that Current TV's prime time viewing had dropped.
"Current TV asked Sky Italia for double the carriage fee when prime time viewing had fallen by 40 percent in the past year. Sky Italia's offer was in line with the market and reflected the performance of the channel. It had nothing to do with politics," News Corp. said in a statement.
But Gore denied that ratings had played a role.
"Our ratings have been soaring," he told Corriere TV in an interview that was carried by the Milan daily's website. "One out of three subscribers to Sky Italia watch Current every week." Gore said they were told "specifically that the key reason was that News Corp. was angry" over Olbermann's new show.
Olbermann, a liberal lightning rod who made a heated departure from MSNBC in January, will return to the air next month with a weeknight news-commentary hour.
Sky Italia is one of Italy's major pay television platforms, alongside Mediaset Premium offered by the media empire founded by Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi. The gradual entrance of digital terrestrial in the last few years has opened up the air waves to many more channels than were previously available on the free-to-air bandwidth.
(This version CORRECTS Corrects that Current TV will remain on air until the end of May.)