Why Al-Jazeera is buying Current TV

The Qatar-backed broadcaster needs more viewers, but it might not find a quick fix in the struggling cable-news network.

By Aimee Picchi Jan 3, 2013 10:55AM

Image: Watching television (Klaus Tiedge/Getty Images/Getty Images)It's not easy being Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-backed pan-Arab news broadcaster -- and its fortunes might not see a big turnaround with its purchase of Al Gore's Current TV. 


The English-language version of the network has struggled to find a foothold in the U.S., with only a sprinkling of American cities airing the channel. (My own town -- Burlington, Vt. -- is one of the few where viewers can find it on the local cable network, but more about that later.)


Al-Jazeera, which is reportedly paying $500 million, will shut down Current's programming and start a new English-language channel via Current's distribution of more than 60 million homes.


But Al-Jazeera's plans aren't likely to play out that smoothly. On Wednesday night -- just hours after the news broke -- Time Warner Cable (TWC) pulled Current TV's programming, cutting off access to 12 million homes. Viewers were treated to an on-screen message alerting them that the channel "is no longer available on Time Warner Cable," reports the Huffington Post.


"One of Current’s distributors, Time Warner Cable, did not consent to the sale to Al-Jazeera," wrote Current TV co-founder Joel Hyatt in a memo to employees. "Consequently, Current will no longer be carried on TWC. This is unfortunate, but I am confident that Al-Jazeera America will earn significant additional carriage in the months and years ahead."


Politics have played a part in Al-Jazeera's struggle to gain American viewers. The network's Arabic-language channel drew condemnations a decade ago for airing Al Qaeda members and sympathizers, notes the New York Times, and many U.S. cable companies refused to carry the network.


"There are still people who will not watch it, who will say that it's a 'terrorist network,'" Philip Seib, the author of "The Al Jazeera Effect," told the Times. "Al-Jazeera has to override that by providing quality news."


Others have sought Current before, including conservative personality Glenn Beck. His TheBlaze site approached Current last year, the Wall Street Journal reported, but Current executives responded by saying "the legacy of who the network goes to is important to us and we are sensitive to networks not aligned with our point of view."


Current TV's shabby ratings are another hurdle for Al-Jazeera. The network, which put itself up for sale last year, reportedly struggled to find a buyer given its low average viewership of 35,000. By comparison, Fox News drew an average of 2.1 million primetime total viewers in 2012. 


In my town of Burlington -- a small city of about 40,000 residents known for its liberal attitudes -- Al-Jazeera English was the focus of a 2008 controversy when the city-backed Burlington Telecom decided to pull the network from its lineup. After a community backlash over free speech, the cable operator backed off the plan. 


Getting such grassroots support isn't easy. The broadcaster aims to bypass the pay-TV gatekeepers through Current TV's previous carriage deals, but if Al-Jazeera's new network sheds viewers from an already low base, other pay-TV distributors could follow in Time Warner Cable's footsteps.


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21Comments
Jan 4, 2013 9:38PM
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Gee , Algore you are all about global warming , until it comes to taking millions from OIL rich Qatar ! ... Oh ya, glad you snuck that deal through right before the capital gains taxes went up . you gigantic FRAUD .
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If selling out is purposefully promoting the religious views of some Americans as more valuable than those of the rest of us, Then there are no channels that have not sold out.  Take a look at this site and see how many of the hate groups are Islamic at core.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_organizations_designated_by_the_Southern_Poverty_Law_Center_as_hate_groups

PS. I don't believe there god is anymore  a false idle than yours mfc
Jan 4, 2013 7:46PM
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AL Jazeera is Arab news, slanted and opinionated towards the Arab view of the world. The sort of news

that Nazi Germany would have liked to have during their time. It is not liberal and is in fact ,far, far to the right.

Jan 4, 2013 7:13PM
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This is only another example that this county is going down hill, to say it nicely.

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Ok. We have the ex-Vice president, now the Global Warming Czar, selling his cable news network to the Al-Qaeda news network. So to improve their image and ratings they could hire Secretary and Apologist of the New Arabic States – Hillary and the wife of the Kenyan, who just sold 20 new F-16 Fighter Jets to the Brotherhood, as their new Anchor Women of the nightly propaganda news. I wonder how they’ll look in a Burka?  

 

Jan 4, 2013 6:14PM
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Let's see.......America-"Land of The Free" as long as you are a tea sipping hypocrite.

 

 I'm just thankful they didn't sell out to Glen Beck and his Nazi cronies! I quit watching it when they fired Keith

Jan 4, 2013 6:04PM
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msnbc is listed as aljazera on my tv.

Jan 4, 2013 6:02PM
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some of you may not understand that when a cable company or a satellite company carries a channel, they pay them for it....I don't want my money going to terrorists.....I really hope that direct tv drops them before i have to drop them
Jan 4, 2013 5:51PM
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I would like to see the network.  It pays to know your enemy.  I prefer certain news networks, but all of them are an exercise in what's true journalism.  It would be interesting to see their slant (I almost said 'spin').
Jan 4, 2013 3:51PM
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This has an easy solution- don't watch it ( just in case anyone actually did).  Oprah has her network, it's offensive, so I don't watch it. That's why you have 3000 other channels to watch.

You all go to the 7-11 or Hakeem's mini-mart to get your icees and coffee and half-gallon sodas, so what's the big deal? Where do you think that CASH goes anyway?  Not patronizing THOSE guys would have more impact.

Comcast has Russian channels- don't y'all hate commies?

Get a life and change the freakin channel, or get off the couch and take a walk- but not to the 7-11.

Jan 3, 2013 7:19PM
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HEY, AL GORE IS NOT THE SOLE OWNER. HE HAS A REPUBLICAN BY THE NAME OF JOEL HYATH. THEY BOTH ARE SELLING OUT,NOT JUST GORE. SO GET IT STRAIGHT.
IF CURRENT IS SOLD I WILL NOT WATCH IT ANYMORE.
 RIGHT NOW I AM ON THE PHONE ON HOLD WITH DIRECT TV. I AM GOING TO TELL THEM I DO NOT WANT THAT CHANNEL ON MY LINE-UP.
JUST GOT OFF THE PHONE WITH DIRECT TV:THEY WILL NOT TAKE THE CHANNEL OF THE AIR. THE REP SAID HE DOES NOT KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT AL-JAZZERA AND THEY WILL NOT DISCRIMINATE EVEN THOUGH ALJ BACKS AL QUEDDA BY PUTTING THEIR PROPAGANDA ON THE AIR WAVES.  OH,HELL NO.

Jan 3, 2013 4:40PM
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And this guy was almost President...
Jan 3, 2013 3:38PM
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I heard Al Gore was also in talks to sell Global Warming to some cold people in Iceland.
Jan 3, 2013 2:42PM
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Al Gore's station was just an extension of Al-Jazeera, anyway. No need to have two anti-American stations What difference does it make,, we don't need another anti-american besides MSNBC.
Jan 3, 2013 2:22PM
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Al Jazeera, just another liberal station.  Its where the treehumping, America hating , freeloading democrats get their news.
Jan 3, 2013 2:08PM
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So Al is selling to a terrorist front group. And b low
Job bill allowed Bin to grow and kill 3,000 Americans. And we know obo is a muslim at heart. Do you see a pattern here?

Jan 3, 2013 2:01PM
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Comcast should drop the network .... If they don't, I will cut back to basic cable.
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