Why Al Jazeera America Seemed Doomed From the Get-Go

Al Jazeera America Shutting Down
AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File

Al Jazeera America is shutting down, marking the end of an experiment that belongs alongside New Coke in the annals of marketing miscalculations.

Cloaked over the skeleton of what was Current, a channel that itself was struggling, Al Jazeera seemed misguided from the get-go, on almost every level. That included the questionable assumption that there was pent-up demand for another news channel when existing ones were struggling, as well as a belief that U.S. viewers were clamoring for more serious and international coverage, beyond the admittedly paltry amount that’s available to them.

Finally, there was the little matter of the name. Fairly or not, to many in the U.S. Al Jazeera, backed by the government of Qatar, evoked images of a foreign news organization presenting points of view that are perceived as being hostile to America in general, and perhaps especially its policy pertaining to the Middle East. Never mind the merits of those beliefs, choosing to use that name almost surely put too much faith in viewers and created significant distribution and carriage hurdles – the life’s blood of any small cable channel.

Some of the longer-form reporting and investigative journalism that Al Jazeera championed – and for which the channel won awards – is certainly laudable. But there’s a reason “Frontline” exists within the relatively safe harbor of PBS, and that prestigious, issue-oriented documentaries have largely been confined to premium services like HBO and Netflix, even with CNN now making a concerted push into that arena.

Tellingly, the major network news organizations, ad-supported commercial enterprises that they are, see virtually no appetite for serious primetime news. Instead, their magazines are almost exclusively devoted to salacious crimes, hidden-camera stunts and the occasional big interview. As for basic cable, those channels have been awash in talk and opinion because it’s much cheaper to deliver than the investigative work that Al Jazeera touted.

There’s a chicken-and-egg question, of course, as to whether those news operations have helped drag news toward infotainment or are merely responding to viewer preferences. Yet the bottom line is that the gulf between serious TV news and commercially viable news – between what people might say they want, and what they actually watch – has seldom seemed wider. That left Al Jazeera America to claw for what amounted to a niche within a niche.

Whatever the mix of causes, the network’s fate — especially sad for those who have worked to establish it as a credible news source — deals another blow to those who insist there really is an under-served market out there for in-depth reporting. Because while it’s nice to think so and however noble the intentions, when it comes to proving that theory, Al Jazeera America didn’t even have a fighting chance.

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  1. P4OUR says:

    I thought Al-Jazeera did a great job of telling “it” the way “it” really should be. Regardless of sensitivity or loyalty, don’t we want the truth? If truth is too hard to hear, change the channel to something that suits you. Find your favorite news channel & stick with it…shit ain’t that hard, people.

  2. virginia says:

    i went to AlJazeera with a great story concerning a bad elder law that leads to abuse. AlJazeera producer and others did a marvelous job on the story, coming to Texas, filming myself and others in from of the Texas legislature. Fox, others had ignored this great story. No one from ISIS showed up at my door, the producer was a white guy from Boston who worked for CNN for years. They did a great show, word for word what myself and others in my position had told them. Al Jazeera is seen in over 100 countries , is a big hit in Europe and other countries. Since AlJazeera is owned by a middle eastern muslim ruling family in Quatar, I believe wrongful prejudice from USa viewers immediately was a problem. This network did good news, won lots of awards. . wary feelings toward muslims in the USa is understandable, but Aljazeera was a good network. It was not “Arab propaganda” as some as wrongfully accused. thank you for your grest coverage of my story, all those involved at the AlJazeera network.

    • Seriously says:

      I enjoyed watching. I loved TechKnow the best. But, they mostly focused on the Middle East though. But I had no problem with watching it. Better than the alphabet channels.

      • P4OUR says:

        I honestly didn’t care who owned it. Ran it. Sponsored it…it was good news reporting. Very professional, unbiased news.

  3. Michael Paul says:

    This is really a shame. Anyone who has actually watched the channel and wasn’t scared off by the name (its Arabic so it must be terrorist propaganda) would realize the network offered real fair and balanced reporting comparable to bbc. I can’t watch MSNC or Fox news because of the partisan BS and Cnn is a 24hour feed of Donald trump. Long live al jazeera America!

  4. BillUSA says:

    The whole idea seemed doomed to me at the start because of the perceived link to terrorists.

  5. Dienesha says:

    Yea I’d rather watch Rachel McAdams on MSNBC and Ryan Goslings or Kate & Jon Plus + E8ght…
    After all Al Jarreau didn’t like his network anywhoooo! Jush evel ppl!

  6. Sharon Anderson says:

    Comparing Al Jazeera America to New Coke is unfair. New Coke was a much better idea.

  7. What says:

    Easy. I consider myself a well educated individual who is fairly aware (yet not overly informed) of what the world is going through. I’m, by the way , an immigrant. As someone who was in college through 9/11, I used to think Al Jazeera was the spokesnetwork of Al Qaida. I can only imagine what less eduacted / more naive people would’ve associated it with.

  8. Bill says:

    They claimed they had no real affiliation with the other Al Jazeera, aka the Terrorist Network, but their viewpoints in their stories did nothing to dissuade first-time viewers from that.

    I know it’s the way the industry leans but viewers didn’t need yet another “blame America first” network, and any remaining credibility hey might have had went right out the window in the wake of the Peyton Manning fiasco.

  9. I believe the network’s name is the sole reason for their failure. If they had changed their name, the network it would’ve been a success.

  10. Y says:

    Sad news indeed! Agreed they could have probably survived a little longer if not for the name. They actually covered news and did great pieces on various topics, while the Rachel Meadows of msnbc and Bill Orilley’s of foX conducting shout matches of their deepy entrenched opinions at you nonstop. If I were the owner, name it anything else , even just AjAM network, they could have lived another day!

  11. lynneinla says:

    There’s certainly a US market for serious news, even one that devotes significant blocks of time to foreign coverage and wonky policy issues. Both NPR and PBS’s NewsHour easily sell out their broadcast and digital ad space and advertisers are willing to accept the limitations required with “sponsor” copy. Both their broadcast and online audience numbers are high. Their biggest fans are frequently influential media. Advertisers know there’s a big audience in search of that kind of content and public media’s been terrified for years that a commercial entity without the government and non-profit restrictions…and with deep pockets…would leave them in the dust. It’s why MSNBC’s Morning Joe has taken a big bite out of NPR’s Morning Edition and various radio and TV networks have toyed with imitators.

    As someone who considered an Al Jaz job and have several friends who went there, one of its other big problems was lack of marketing, promotion and PR. While they had a substantial marketing budget, they were virtually invisible aside from a tiny launch window. They broke solid stories, had good journalists on staff. But they seemed to believe that simply by being on the air here like BBC, they’d attract awareness and audience. On top of that, there should’ve been a smart campaign educating the public that Al Jaz wasn’t Taliban. But they either didn’t do that at all, or did that pretty poorly. Sad news since there are some really good people there.

  12. JE Vizzusi says:

    The Peyton Manning story was the most concocted mess of a story in the history of Doc Filmmaking! Seems that everytime I tuned in they were reporting something worse about America that not even Trump could dream up. At least Al Gore got paid.

  13. fredw says:

    Very sad news.
    Their coverage was usually fantastic. Far more depth than all other U.S. news stations combined.
    I believe that most did not watch it because the name implies a niche station.

  14. J.K. says:

    Shutting down – short-sighted and sad. I loved watching alongside the major news stations here and felt my knowledge and awareness of global events was enhanced by Al Jazeera reporting. A loss.

  15. Phil Goldman says:

    The only winners in this whole story are Al Gore and the American viewers.
    Gore peddled urrent TV for well more than it was worth and then ran to the bank with the millions Al Jazeera overpaid for it.
    And the American viewers won because they’re now being spared having to scroll past a network that frankly was being programmed by a nondemocratic Middle Eastern Country that is out of step with American values.

  16. PresidentTrump says:

    Cruz is an American. His mother was American. End of argument. Here’s a question…if a baby is born on an airplane that is flying over any ocean – no land in site, what is that baby’s citizenship?

  17. Matt says:

    Sadly, most Americans rather watch a Kardashian marathon than serious news. Yes the name was a DOA…there was no way a channel named Al Jazeera was going to succeed in the US. Period. But just look at shows like OReilly or Jay Leno or Kimmel that do man on the street interviews and Americans can’t even name the VP. These are the same folks falling for Trump’s Shctick and still thinking Obama is a Muslim from Kenya (btw, the same people not concerned about first term Senator Cruz actually born in a foreign country while Obama’s mothers American citizenship was never questioned)

    • Phil Goldman says:

      You need to get your POV figured out… Blaming the Network that holds the microphone showing just how many Americans on the street don’t know who our President is or how many Senators there are is misguided frustration. I’m convinced that more and more Americans merely care about what they can “get” from other tax payers rather than going out and making their own way….

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