August 19, 2013 - Fourteen hours of straight news
every day. Hard-hitting documentaries. Correspondents in oft-overlooked corners of the country. And fewer commercials than any other news channel.
It sounds like something a journalism professor would imagine. In actuality, it is Al Jazeera
America, the culmination of a long-held dream among the leaders of Qatar, the Middle Eastern emirate that already reaches most of the rest of the world with its Arabic- and English-language news channels. The new channel, created specifically for consumers in the United States, will join cable and satellite lineups on Tuesday afternoon.
America is the most ambitious American television news venture since Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes started the Fox News Channel
in 1996. It faces some of the same obstacles that Fox eventually glided over — including blanket skepticism about whether distributors, advertisers and viewers will give it a chance. But that is where the parallels to other channels end, because Al Jazeera
America is going against the grain of seemingly every trend in television news.
will see a news channel unlike the others, as our programming proves Al Jazeera
America will air fact-based, unbiased and in-depth news,” said Ehab Al Shihabi, the channel’s acting chief executive, on a news conference call last week. He was explicit about what will be different, saying, “There will be less opinion, less yelling and fewer celebrity sightings.”
Mr. Al Shihabi and other Al Jazeera
representatives say proprietary research supports their assertions that American viewers want a PBS-like news channel 24 hours a day. Originally the new channel was going to have an international bent; now its overseers emphasize how much American news it will cover and how many domestic bureaus it will have, which some see as an effort to appease skeptics.
Would-be competitors at big broadcast news divisions like NBC and established cable news channels like CNN have mostly shrugged at the start-up. A senior television news executive predicted that Al Jazeera
America would, at the outset, receive even lower ratings than the channel it is replacing, Current TV.
Last month the lame-duck Current had about 24,000 viewers in prime time, according to Nielsen data; Fox News had 1.3 million. Al Jazeera
acquired Current TV
for $500 million in January to start an American channel, after trying unsuccessfully for years to win cable and satellite carriage for its English-language international news channel.
But with carriage comes concessions. Since distributors discourage their partners from giving programming away on the Internet, Al Jazeera
will have to block American users from the live streams of its programming that tend to be popular in periods of tumult overseas. Al Jazeera
will start in about 48 million of the country’s roughly 100 million homes that subscribe to television.