Al-Jazeera tackles American market, starting Tuesday
By Rob Lever ,AFPWASHINGTON -- With a cast of TV news stars, deep pockets and an ambitious agenda, Al-Jazeera launches its U.S. news channel on Tuesday, aiming to shake up the broadcast journalism market stateside.
August 18, 2013, 12:01 am TWN
The U.S. cable channel will reach more than 40 million households and vastly expands the footprint of the Qatar-based media group, despite questions about how it will be received by American viewers.
Al-Jazeera America's audience is likely to start out small, but its bosses hope to have a big impact when it competes against already established brands such as CNN, MSNBC and Fox News.
Americans will be able to get 14 hours of news, documentary and discussion programming daily, and updates at the top of every hour 24 hours each day. But the selling point will be long-form reporting of stories overlooked by other news organizations.
“We know Americans want in-depth coverage of the news that matters to them,” said Ehab Al Shihabi, interim chief executive of Al-Jazeera America.
“They want more unbiased coverage and less opinion, that's what Al-Jazeera is about.”
Yet some analysts say the channel will face a tough sell to U.S. audiences because of its history in the Middle East, where it was the outlet for videos distributed by al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden. Some conservatives claim it is still anti-Western.
Shihabi said he believes Americans will come around once they see the programs.
He said surveys indicate that “75 percent of people who did not watch Al-Jazeera came on the negative size and 90 percent of those who watch Al-Jazeera came on the positive side.”
Shihabi said 850 staff have been hired for 12 U.S. bureaus, and will draw on 70 bureaus worldwide to give Al-Jazeera unmatched scale.
While the channel will be available to fewer than half of U.S. households — notably absent from Time Warner Cable, which is in discussions on carrying Al-Jazeera — Shihabi hopes to reach 100 percent soon.
“We are investing heavily in advertising and branding,” he said. “I'm sure it will be a short time before Al-Jazeera will be viral and people will be demanding Al-Jazeera.”