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Thu 29 Aug 2013 04:00 PM

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Al Jazeera America flops, but Qatar won’t care

Paltry viewing figures unlikely to give station’s top brass any sleepless nights

Al Jazeera America flops, but Qatar won’t care
Daniel Shane

For all the hype and controversy surrounding Al Jazeera’s launch in America this month, the event itself proved to be a major turn off for viewers.

According to figures from Nielsen, the first airing of the Qatari broadcaster’s America Tonight programme attracted an audience of just 27,000. This doesn’t stack up well against Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor, which drew 2.97m. Even CNN’s Anderson Cooper mustered 627,000 viewers during the same time slot.

The numbers make for embarrassing reading for a network that in the run up to its August 20 launch spent $500m acquiring Al Gore’s Current TV and hired hundreds of journalists, including star names like CNN’s Ali Velshi. True, its launch was not helped by the decisions of Time Warner Cable and AT&T not to carry the network, but its potential reach was still a good 50m or so US homes.

The paltry numbers are probably not surprising given the largely negative sentiment stateside, with one Fox News analyst describing Al Jazeera as a mouthpiece for Al Qaeda. “It’s a very unattractive brand in the US,” Claire Enders, of the UK’s Enders Analysis, told me in the run up to the launch. “Americans have very little interest in foreign news services anyway.”

Will the Qatari royal family, which fully owns Al Jazeera, care about this poor turn out? Not one jot I reckon. Backed by the Gulf state’s petrodollars, the station is under no pressure to turn a profit and its operating costs are merely a drop in the ocean for its loaded backers.

What is the point then? With another nine years until the FIFA World Cup 2022, I’d hazard that Al Jazeera America’s intended effect is as a PR tool, designed to portray a country most Americans know next to nothing about in a positive light.

When it comes down to it, Al Jazeera America is most probably an expensive vanity project that is unlikely to reap any awards any time soon.

Digital magazine: Read the latest edition of Arabian Business online

Qatari 6 years ago

"Will the Qatari royal family, which fully owns Al Jazeera" Get your facts right.

procan 6 years ago

Good piece Daniel , will watch more of your work. Thoughtful and balanced, carry on mate.

shaheen 6 years ago

Americans are not that interested or bothered about world politics they prefer their own national channels. If you did a survey by stopping people in America and asking them to point out Qatar or Iraq on the map most would struggle to do so. Before I visited the Gulf in 1991 I had no idea that a country called Bahrain existed or even where it was. I also thought that Dubai and Abu Dhabi were in Saudi Arabia.

RAH 6 years ago

So you think the royals DONT own Al Jazeera?

Hmmm.. Are you 16 or are you really that naive?

Jay Kallio 6 years ago

I wish to offer a controversial prediction in contrast to the paltry viewership that AJAM has garnered so far in the US. Don't prematurely judge the potential success of this news channel. There is a political pendulum swing in motion here in the US toward more a progressive and international focus, and AJAM is perfectly positioned to fill a huge gap in our news reporting by the withdrawal of funding of foreign news bureaus by our mainstream media. As international news gathering here has collapsed, the admittedly small swath of viewers who's major focus is on international events will turn to AJAM. We are a very important audience, because politics in the US is largely determined by small minorities of impassioned activists. This will be AJAM's audience, which we will gradually expand through social media. We hope AJ will ultimately discard the dying cable business model in favor of the growing streaming internet market, where open access is king. Don't underestimate AJAM's potential.

Qatari 6 years ago

Only an ignorant cannot understand the difference in ownership between the of the government and the royal family.

adamjo 6 years ago

Declaring a tv network a failure after one week is ridiculous, and comparing the audience figures of Al Jazeera America to the Fox News Channel and CNN, two networks that have been on the air for 17 years and 33 years respectively, is even more absurd.

I can guarantee that Fox News Channel did not have 2.97 million viewers watching a single program when the channel debuted in 1996, and I would bet their first week on the air had similar ratings to what we saw on Al Jazeera America. It takes time to build your audience. Their ratings were on par with the network they just replaced, Current TV.

Salman 6 years ago

@Qatari: You are funny dude! I agree with RAH that you are indeed 16 or something like that...you expect us to believe that there is a separation between what the state owns and what the ruling family (meaning the family of Sheikh Hamad/Tamim) owns? Do you know that your country Qatar ranks one of the lowest in terms of transparency?

Ahmed Bin Sulayem 6 years ago

Al Jazeera have been trying to get in to the US market for years, its a tough market for any news channel, but if FOX which is extremely ignorant,a real joke & get's away with lying every single week if not every day can make it in the US then there is no reason to doubt Al Jazeera. I take my hat off to Qatar for never giving up & I look forward to seeing them being more successful in this step, 1 week is too short to see how they fair in comparison to the rest. Current TV is a flop & a failure, why else would Al Gore sell it.

It would be great to see more Arab business penetrating the media monopoly (news papers, search engines, mobile media, magazines & social networks) in the US market from the GCC.

We (Arabs) have to get rid of the intolerance, racism, hate towards us & really show what the reality is. As far as I can see the alternative media works best.

Peter Higgins 6 years ago

"if FOX which is extremely ignorant, a real joke & get's away with lying every single week if not every day can make it" - this may be true, but Fox has the best production, which is what allows them to get away with the lies. Aljazeera has better reporting, but in no way matches Fox's production slickness. It is sad that's what it comes down too, but that's the reality unfortunately.

By the way, the worst advert for Islam is Saudi Arabia which is still a 100 years from being resolved, it seems. Aljazeera can make a positive contribution, but while Saudi is as it is, the West will always be prejudiced.