Are Americans ready for Al Jazeera America?

The Qatar-funded news network promises less opinion, less yelling, fewer celebrity sightings -- and far fewer commercials.

By Bruce Kennedy Aug 16, 2013 1:01PM

Al Jazeera sign on office builiding (© Fadi al-Assaad/Reuters)Is Al Jazeera, the controversial news network funded by the government of Qatar, ready for prime time in the U.S.? We may have the answer as early as Tuesday, when Al Jazeera America goes on the air and online, bringing programming tailored to a U.S. audience.


The launch of Al Jazeera America is meant to be a direct challenge to news programming from organizations like Time Warner's (TWX) CNN, News Corp.'s (NWS) Fox News and MSNBC, a part of Comcast (CMCSA).


But even now questions remain about just where in the U.S. Al Jazeera will be available -- and whether Americans, who have been steadily weaned off "hard news" for years, will accept the network's format.


Launched in the mid-1990s, Al Jazeera quickly found an audience in the Arab world. It came under fire in the U.S. and elsewhere after the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001, when it would air videotaped comments from Osama bin Laden and other supporters of jihad against America and the West.


But Al Jazeera's English-language network has also been praised globally in recent years for its coverage of international events, especially its reporting during the so-called Arab Spring that began in 2011. For its American venture, the company has hired many news veterans from CNN, CBS, the BBC and elsewhere.


"There will be less opinion, less yelling, and fewer celebrity sightings," interim Al Jazeera CEO Ehab El Shihabi said on a conference call with reporteers Thursday, as quoted by Adweek. "We are not infotainment." El Shihabi also noted Al Jazeera America would run only six minutes of commercials per hour, compared with the 15 to 17 minutes per hour usually aired on other networks.


Al Jazeera America now has a staff of more than 800 people and is prepared to be viewed in up to 48 million U.S. households. However, the actual number of TV sets that will receive the network is still up in the air.


The Los Angeles Times says that those 48 million homes represent less than half of the country's 103 million pay-TV subscribers and that Al Jazeera got those households when it bought Al Gore's Current TV last year. "With the purchase," the LA Times noted, "Al Jazeera inherited Current TV's existing distribution deals."


Many observers still have doubts about whether Americans will be willing to get their news from Al Jazeera.


"For many Americans, the perception is these are the folks who brought you Osama bin Laden," Allen Adamson, a managing partner with marketing firm Landor Associates, told the LA Times. "Even though they were providing a news function, there was a case of don't confuse me with the facts."


However, network president Kate O'Brian says there's an audience that's hungry for the type of news Al Jazeera America is prepared to bring. "The American viewer is looking for a particular set of things that they just can't find in the marketplace," she told The Hollywood Reporter on Thursday. "And that's unbiased coverage, in-depth, quality coverage and telling stories that they don't really hear in any of the news . . . that's out there right now."


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16Comments
Aug 16, 2013 2:45PM
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I think that it would be a good idea to have a news station that does just that, the news.
Real news is hard to come by now a days. television is put out there for a ratings game. The station tat you watch puts on what they believe will cause the most ratings then what really should be said and shown. What I am saying is, who cares if tom had an affair with Mary and that marry is going to sue her husband for 40 million dollars. Or that a rapper got into a fender bender and now has to do community service. I want to watch the news just for that the news, what is going on in the world and how if any will it affect me.
Aug 16, 2013 2:21PM
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MSNBC has already staked out that ground.
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Cant blame this one on Dubuah or Obummer....

 

This is clearly Al Gores fault.....

 

 

 

 

Aug 17, 2013 12:41AM
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It can't be bad to hear a different perspective, knowing the every source we hear has its built-in bias. If you don't believe everything you hear on Fox or MSNBC why should this feel any different. I would also be eager to have easier access to BBC for the same reason. If you hear lies from 5 different sources it may give you a hint at the truth.
Aug 16, 2013 3:52PM
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I miss Current TV. It had some decent programming---and it would have been nice to see it mature as a network.

Stephanie Miller in the Morning, and John Fugelsang's program were amazing.

They aired some interesting documentaries like the Vanguard Series.

I lost Current a year ago when Time Warner pulled the plug the day of the sale.

 

It would be nice to see a news channel for Adults. Al Jazerra English that airs on PBS is basically ex-BBC people. It's pretty good. However, no network is perfect...but I think we can do better.

I wish BBC America had a News Only channel---I love Top Gear and Ab Fab, but I'd love to get more than an hour of BBC news at 3am. Their I-Phone app is excellent.

 

The fact that Al-Jazerra is owned by Qatar means there will be an agenda, just like any other network. Just as long as you are an informed viewer, I'm sure there will be some valuable reporting, like any other network. The problem is that most Americans aren't informed consumers of media.

Aug 16, 2013 3:06PM
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This is mean, racist, and not politically correct, just a straight forward opinion from a good old redneck. **** NO!!!
Aug 17, 2013 10:49PM
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I suspect many detractors have "never"watched any Al Jazeera newscast' about or from any Country.

 

They seem to be more honest and probing then most.....And report "real news." 

Aug 19, 2013 12:53PM
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Just another obo friendly network.
Aug 19, 2013 1:57PM
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I don't know if my cable supplier will offer al Jazerra or not. If I do sign on, it will be interesting to see just how they handle Arab/Israeli confrontations. My guess is it will be like comparing biases between FOX NEWS and MSNBC between Democrats and Republicans. We all know how that works out.
Aug 16, 2013 3:45PM
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Al Jazera is Obama's propaganda network, and should be in the country that the muslims are taking over with Obama's blessing. I wonder why Pravda didn't think of this during the cold war.
Aug 16, 2013 10:12PM
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Can't be any worse than Faux News!
Aug 17, 2013 12:09AM
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NO NO NO! This is such a bad idea. I would block this channel if its possible
Aug 16, 2013 1:28PM
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US media coverage of Mid east  has been biased ,failing to provide an honest presentation of events as a result of pressure from the Isreal Lobby The American people have been gravely misled as was so evident in the Iraq war as well as the reasons for the antecedent 9/11 attack. No adverse criticism of Isreal ever appears thus the Congress and administrations have been able to pander to the  Jews for votes and adopt policies that have been  a disaster  for  the US Only the BBC World News has been fair minded therefore we need more sources to inform the US public so that it may in future make better informed decisions
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