Al-Jazeera to end U.S. chan­nel

The ca­ble out­let tar­get­ing Amer­i­can view­ers will shut down for eco­nomic rea­sons.

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Dow Jones Newswires

When al-Jazeera Amer­ica was launched to great fan­fare in 2013, its then-leader told The Wall Street Jour­nal that it planned to skip tabloid fare in fa­vor “fact-based, in­depth, long-for­mat news” in part be­cause it didn’t have to worry too much about prof­its.

Af­ter all, it was backed by the oil-and-gas­rich govern­ment of Qatar, and oil was trad­ing around $100 a bar­rel.

On Wed­nes­day, with oil trad­ing near $30, al-Jazeera made an about-face, an­nounc­ing it was shut­ting down the Amer­i­can ca­ble chan­nel by April 30 for eco­nomic rea­sons.

“While al-Jazeera Amer­ica built a loyal au­di­ence across the U.S. and in­creas­ingly was rec­og­nized as an im­por­tant new voice in tele­vi­sion news, the eco­nomic land­scape of the me­dia en­vi­ron­ment has driven its strate­gic de­ci­sion to wind down its op­er­a­tions and con­clude its ser­vice,” wrote Al Anstey, a long­time al-Jazeera ex­ec­u­tive who took over as CEO of the Amer­i­can chan­nel in May af­ter its found­ing CEO was ousted in the wake of dis­crim­i­na­tion suits.

The move fol­lows broader an­nounce­ments from Doha in re­cent months that there would be sig­nif­i­cant cut­backs at al-Jazeera, which runs sev­eral chan­nels, in­clud­ing its flag­ship Ara­bic chan­nel and an in­ter­na­tional chan­nel in English that isn’t cur­rently dis­trib­uted in the U.S., ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter. The govern­ment of Qatar, which backs al-Jazeera, gets about 90 per­cent of its bud­get from the en­ergy sec­tor, ac­cord­ing to the IMF.

But the U.S. chan­nel faced acute fi­nan­cial chal­lenges of its own. Af­ter pur­chas­ing Al Gore’s Cur­rent TV for nearly $500 mil­lion, al-Jazeera sank more than $2 bil­lion into al-Jazeera Amer­ica, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter. It hired about 800 jour­nal­ists at launch and opened 12 bu­reaus around the coun­try.

The chan­nel steered clear of the traf­fic chases, celebrity gos­sip and political shout­ing matches. Its on-air look was stripped of the graph­ics that fill the screens of CNN,

Fox News, MSNBC and other out­lets. The strat­egy paid off in the jour­nal­ism com­mu­nity as the chan­nel won awards for its work.

Get­ting rat­ings and dis­tri­bu­tion proved more chal­leng­ing.

The chan­nel, in 60 mil­lion homes, had to fight so hard to keep dis­tri­bu­tion that it some­times ended up pay­ing dis­trib­u­tors, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter. Com­pet­ing ca­ble-news net­works are in 90 mil­lion homes or more. Al Jazeera Amer­ica’s tele­vi­sion au­di­ence was very small, of­ten fewer than 25,000 view­ers.

Partly as a re­sult of its weak ne­go­ti­at­ing po­si­tion, Al Jazeera Amer­ica was forced to stop stream­ing Al Jazeera English on­line in the U.S., which had helped it build in­flu­ence thanks to its close-up cov­er­age of the Arab Spring.

Al Jazeera said it will now “ex­pand its ex­ist­ing in­ter­na­tional dig­i­tal ser­vices to broaden its mul­ti­plat­form pres­ence in the United States.”

In ad­di­tion, the chan­nel car­ried bag­gage from its name and faced chal­lenges of overcoming per­cep­tions of anti-Amer­i­can bias. There is still hos­til­ity among many Amer­i­cans be­cause Al Jazeera’s Ara­bic chan­nel pro­vided an out­let for Osama bin Laden af­ter the Sept. 11, 2001, ter­ror­ist at­tacks.

That ran­cor never re­ally left. When the net­work re­cently aired a con­tro­ver­sial re­port about ath­letes dop­ing, which in­cluded a sug­ges­tion that Den­ver Bron­cos quar­ter­back Pey­ton Man­ning may have used hu­man growth hor­mone, ESPN com­men­ta­tor and for­mer Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka called the chan­nel “garbage” and “not a cred­i­ble news or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

Asked Wed­nes­day about shut­down, Man­ning said, “I’m sure it’s go­ing to be just de­ves­tat­ing to all of their view­ers.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.