This sale is a huge gamble for Al Jazeera. Companies that refused to carry Al Jazeera for political reasons will be forced to distribute Al Jazeera America when it replaces Current TV. Time Warner Cable in New York City has already dropped Current TV and says it won’t broadcast Al Jazeera. One wonders what will happen to Al Jazeera America over the next few years when other cable and satellite contracts expire. There have also been suggestions it may have to end its popular online streaming in the U.S. to accommodate these contracts.
Al Jazeera’s hope, presumably, is that broad numbers of Americans will gradually be won over by the range and diversity of its news and programming. A large part of my role with Al Jazeera English, particularly in the U.S. and Canada, was to urge people to get past the post-Sept. 11 fear-mongering and appreciate the channel’s editorial accomplishments and numerous prestigious awards.
It was striking that, in 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went to Qatar and asked to meet senior Al Jazeera officials. I was part of that meeting and her message was that the Obama administration regarded Al Jazeera as part of the “solution,” not the “problem” in the Middle East.
Al Jazeera’s challenge won’t be an easy one. My sense of Al Jazeera today is that it is becoming a more “top-down,” centrally driven news operation than ever before. All news programs and most editorial decisions now come out of Qatar.
Al Jazeera America will force it to change if it wants to succeed. For news channels to thrive in the U.S., America’s story must be “made in America.” Al Jazeera has time to turn it around before “the lights go on” in these 40 million homes, but not much time. The American TV marketplace waits for no one, and rarely grants a second chance.
Archive for January 20, 2013
Al Arabiya has an uncredited article which examines the Al Jazeera purchase of Current from an outside the US perspective…or maybe I should be more accurate say a Saudi competitor of the Qatari network perspective…(via DC Internationalist)
Matthew Reed, a principal analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media in Dubai, said that Al Jazeera faces several challenges in its US push.
“It is quite a risky move,” Reed said of Al Jazeera’s acquisition of Current TV. “There are some negative perceptions about Al Jazeera in some quarters of the US. It’s hard to predict how distributors will react.”
How Al Jazeera fares politically and commercially are two separate issues, Reed said.
The U.S. television market is notoriously tough, and the business of making TV news is incredibly expensive. And so it remains to be seen whether Al Jazeera can sell enough adverts to justify even a fraction of its initial investment.
“[Television news] is a costly business, and competitive. And the media landscape is also changing… The way that people consume media is changing, and broadcasters are having to adapt,” Reed told Al Arabiya in an interview.
Yet the Qatari state-financed Al Jazeera is more concerned with politics than profits, said Mr. Reed.
“There’s no guarantee they will be commercially successful. But Al Jazeera is freer of those constraints than many other companies, because it’s basically financed by the state of Qatar,” he said.
“Al Jazeera is not a regular commercial broadcaster… In a way it’s a foreign-policy tool of Qatar,” he added. “Qatar wants to increase its own regional and international influence, and I think that is part of the explanation behind this move.”