Qatari broadcaster has already signed up Canadian journalist Ali Velshi as host
Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera is set to launch its American cable network on August 20, senior staff at the company confirmed.
Canadian journalist, Ali Velshi, known for his work on CNN and set to be a prominent host for Al Jazeera America, tweeted August 20 was the launch date for the new channel.
The date was confirmed by Mustafa Sawwaq, acting director general of Aljazeera Media Network.
“The restructuring plans will be announced soon,” Sawwaq said, adding that the network also plans to launch TV stations and websites in other languages.
Last month it was reported Al Jazeera America had hired hundreds of journalists as part of its plan to create a mainstream US cable news channel that aims to compete with dominant networks like CNN and Fox.
The network, with headquarters in New York City, has already hired about 650 employees in the United States as it gears up for a late-August launch, said Ehab Al Shihabi, the executive director of international operations.
The network will focus on regional and local U.S.-based investigative journalism for its US programming. It will feature a flagship two-hour long news programme between 7-9pm, Al Shihabi told an audience at the Aspen Ideas Festival.
Al Jazeera may face an uphill battle in attracting a loyal US audience, given that it is under the patronage of the government of Qatar. It will at first be available in only 49 million US households - about half of the reach of CNN.
Al Shihabi acknowledged that there may be a perception problem among consumers of Al Jazeera being a controversial news channel but dismissed the challenge as one of the issues faced by any startup channel. He said the network's programming will dispel any doubts about the quality of content or any perceived political bias and that a head of US operations will be announced soon.
He called Al Jazeera America a "serious investment," without specifying an exact amount. He added the network will focus on investigative journalism, which they expect will give it a competitive edge.
As part of its investment in the US, Al Jazeera bought Al Gore's Current TV earlier this year to allow it to compete with US news networks like CNN, MSNBC and Fox News. Terms were undisclosed, but analysts estimated the deal could be worth as much as $500m.
Al Jazeera plans to have 8 minutes of commercials in an hour, which is lower than the industry standard of 14-16 minutes, Al Shihabi said, adding that the network will launch with 12 bureaus in the United States. Al Jazeera is planning bureaus in major cities such as Washington, DC, Los Angeles, Miami and Chicago.
The network's model is based on the one followed by the BBC, which is UK state funded but independently operated, Al Shihabi added.