Lack of visibility limits int'l channels' impact

Don’t expect to see the new English-language version of Mideast news outlet Al-Jazeera in the U.S. anytime soon.

Even putting aside certain misconceptions about Al-Jazeera’s Arabic perspective, cable and satellite operators say their subscribers aren’t interested in international news channels.

Even the global news service BBC World has had trouble gaining carriage in the elusive U.S. market.

“They’re not quite sure whether an international news channel will be of major appeal to their subscribers,” says Jeff Hazell, director of sales and distribution for BBC World.

In short, ad-supported outfits like BBC World and CNN Intl. have virtually no visibility in the U.S., dramatically limiting their impact. Most U.S. viewers, meanwhile, have no place to find foreign news — in effect, helping fuel the stigma that Americans don’t care about overseas affairs.

DirecTV acquisitions senior vice president Michael Thornton says the satcaster has flirted with the idea of adding U.K.-based News Corp. sibling Sky News and has held discussions with BBC World in the past, but has no plans right now to include an international news player.

“We react to our customers’ needs and desires, and the U.S. as a market tends to like to look at their news from a U.S. perspective,” Thornton says.

That presumption stands, even as war wages in Iraq and bombs go off abroad.

When terrorists struck London on July 7, the U.S. cable nets initially turned their feeds over to their international counterparts.

Fox News relied on Sky News, while CNN simulcast its global sister CNN Intl. Even entertainment-based BBC America pre-empted programming to air coverage from BBC World.

It didn’t last long. As the furor died down, the domestic nets returned to regular programming or to covering the events in London themselves.

BBC World’s Hazell sees more opportunity now that Newsworld Intl. — the only full-time English-language service in the U.S. offering world news — is about to drop its format and become Al Gore’s Current TV.

NWI was originally co-owned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. before being sold to Barry Diller’s USA Networks. NBC inherited the channel in the Universal merger but sold it to Gore and his investors.

NWI’s departure comes several months after CNNI lost its coverage in the U.S. Thus, the only international news channels getting any sort of carriage these days are niche outlets targeting immigrants in their native tongue.

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