Al Jazeera English signs first major US TV deal

EXCLUSIVE: Qatar based TV station finally secures breakthrough to build US audience.
Al Jazeera English signs first major US TV deal
By Soren Billing
Thu 25 Jun 2009 06:13 AM

Al Jazeera English will begin its foray into the American market on July 1 after signing its first major US distribution deal with a cable TV company in the Washington DC area, Arabian Business can reveal.

“On July 1 we are going to launch the first operation in cable distribution in the United States,” Al Jazeera's director general, Wadah Khanfar, said in an interview.

“I can tell you that on July 1 we are going to launch an agreement with a Washington DC based company that has around 2.3 million subscribers.”

The English language version of the Qatari news channel is available in 140m homes in 40 countries, including Israel, but it has been unable to enter America, the world's most important English-language market.

Local operators in Burlington, Vermont and Toledo, Ohio have been the only two exceptions to date.

Many Americans associate the Al Jazeera brand with the Arabic news channel's airing of video tapes from Osama Bin Laden, and US cable operators have been reluctant to add Al Jazeera English to their line-ups amid allegations that it is a “mouthpiece for terrorists”.

However, Khanfar said a more benevolent political climate means that the channel will be able to sign distribution deals across the US in the second half of this year.

“I think the atmosphere is changing now. We have negotiations taking place with many cable companies in the United States and Canada and I hope that very soon we are going to hear a lot of good news,” he said.

“Starting next month, we will have a growing audience in the United States.”

The network has been focusing on breaking into the Washington DC and New York City markets, due to the high number of people there who are interested in international news, he added.

Al Jazeera English began broadcasting in November 2006, after hiring a number of well known international journalists, including veteran UK broadcaster Sir David Frost.

In the interview with Arabian Business, Khanfar also said that he does not believe Al Jazeera's news operations will ever be profitable, but that the Al Jazeera network, which includes sports and documentary channels, could be.

See the July 5 edition of Arabian Business for the full interview.

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