NyTi has the gory details on how Gore pulled it off:
Al Gore’s Current TV was never popular with viewers, but it was a hit where it counted: with cable and satellite providers. When he co-founded the channel in 2005, Mr. Gore managed to get the channel piped into tens of millions of households — a huge number for an untested network — through a combination of personal lobbying and arm-twisting of industry giants.Bottom line: Al Gore business is the business of political-connections intimidation that even makes Rupert Murdoch shake in his shoes. It wasn't business logic that caused Murdoch to cut a multi-million dollar deal with Gore,
He called on those skills again after deciding in December to sell Current TV to Al Jazeera for $500 million. To preserve the deal — and the estimated $100 million he would personally receive — he went to some of those same distributors, who were looking for an excuse to drop the low-rated channel, and reminded them that their contracts with Current TV called it a news channel. Were the distributors going to say that an American version of Al Jazeera didn’t qualify, possibly invoking ugly stereotypes of the Middle Eastern news giant?
“The lawyers for the carriers couldn’t find their way around it,” said a person briefed on the negotiations who described them on condition of anonymity[...]
Current was born out of Newsworld International, a niche channel that Mr. Gore and his business partners bought in 2004 for an undisclosed sum. Newsworld’s biggest distributor at the time was DirecTV, which sold television service to 20 million homes, and the man about to become the controlling shareholder of DirecTV was none other than Rupert Murdoch, the chief executive of News Corporation.
In a meeting in New York, Mr. Gore leaned on Mr. Murdoch for an extended contract with a lucrative per-subscriber fee.
Mr. Gore asserted that DirecTV should carry a “diverse set of news sources.”
The resulting contract guaranteed Current roughly 10 cents per subscriber per month and helped Mr. Gore secure the financing he needed to acquire Newsworld. It also laid the groundwork for similar extensions with smaller distributors.
That’s why Current, despite having one of the puniest audiences of any widely distributed cable channel, was able to post annual revenue of about $100 million.