Monday, January 18, 2016

Why Al Jazeera America Was Destined to Fail

    Monday, January 18, 2016   No comments

Al Jazeera America never had a chance. Having struggled in vain to attract an audience since it launched in 2013, the cable news channel announced Wednesday that it would shut down come April. “The decision is driven by the fact that our business model is simply not sustainable in an increasingly digital world, and because of the current global financial challenges,” CEO Al Anstey said in a staff memo, thereby glossing over all of the operation's actual failures.


Maybe you liked Al Jazeera America's news coverage. More likely, you never watched it. After spending $500 million to buy Al Gore's Current TV and put itself in about 40 million homes, the channel reached a piddly 28,000 prime-time viewers in 2015. CNN, by comparison, reaches around 700,000. That is not the sort of gap you can simply ascribe to a secular decline in cable audiences as people spend more time online. Some of the trouble undoubtedly boiled down to its name. Many Americans were never going to watch a channel created by Al Jazeera, the media network owned by the Qatari government with a reputation (fair or not) for being a smidgen hostile to the U.S.


But if Al Jazeera America's brand was a handicap, its philosophy was a death sentence. The channel was founded on the utterly ill-conceived idea that Americans were starving for sober, “unbiased” hard news coverage. In other words, it made the mistake of offering viewers the programming they claimed to want, instead of the programming that all available evidence suggests they actually enjoy. Speaking at the Aspen Ideas Festival in 2013, the channel's first CEO, Ehab Al Shihabi, said market research suggested that there were 40 million or 50 million Americans yearning for deep, old-school reportage.  “If we do the kind of reporting that is considered ‘back to the future’—the hard-core journalistic reporting, not biased, not for entertainment, but fact-based—do we have a place? All the research indicates yes,” Al Shihabi later told the Nation. source

Ed Isr

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