×

Al Jazeera America Chief: We Will Have ‘Less Yelling,’ ‘Fewer Celebs’

Al Jazeera America will strive to distinguish itself from the opinionated newstalk of competitor nets

Al Jazeera America’s interim CEO and prez made one thing clear during a conference call Wednesday: the forthcoming network will be about hard news, not the salacious “infotainment” made popular on competitor cable news nets.

The channel, set to launch on August 20, is promising a more restrained approach to its presentation, in contrast with the opinion-punctuated hosts – and frequent emphasis on celebrity – found on the other cable news nets.

“This will be about unbiased, in-depth news,” said Al Jazeera America CEO Ehab Al Shihabi. “It’s less opinion, less yelling, and fewer celebrities…[There is a demographic] that needs information, not infotainment, and they’re underserved.”

He continued: “The media landscape focuses on the 10%, including the politicians and celebs…And then, they ask the 90% what they think. We’re changing that model and focusing on the 90%…We ask the 10% what they think about what the 90% is saying.”

Shihabi’s comments follow CNN’s announcement that it plans to revive “Crossfire,” which historically has been known as a shout-fest between hosts and guests. Elsewhere on the cable news spectrum, MSNBC and Fox News continue to draw criticism for leaning too far left or right, respectively.

“We’re coming [into the marketplace] to win based on our core identity,” Shihabi explained to journos on a conference call. “We will do the impact, and make the audience chase us. We don’t need to shift our core to chase the audience” and try to convert viewers from other nets, he noted.

Shihabi and prez Kate O’Brian understand that Al Jazeera America faces several hurdles as it rolls out in American households, from P.R. issues deriving from its Middle Eastern name, to penetration issues as the net still engages in talks with carriers who do not have Al Jazeera America on their lineups.

“We did national testing on the network name,” said Shihabi. “75% of the people who didn’t watch Al Jazeera” had a negative impression of the net, whereas “90% of those who did watch” had a positive impression. Shihabi stated that these results were encouraging, while O’Brian emphasized that Al Jazeera America will be fulfilling the American viewer’s need for unbiased news in the marketplace.

“Launching this particular channel, which has a very particular mission, is frankly less challenging than people might think,” O’Brian noted.

Advertisers have also warmed up to Al Jazeera America, according to Shihabi.

“They had a perception [of the channel] but not a reality,” the CEO said. “Then, they saw us, the quality, our president, and this all translated the bad perception being converted into a good perception. We’re not concerned anymore.”

O’Brian and Shihabi hope to draw in younger demos to Al Jazeera America with social media-savvy shows including “The Stream,” which integrates Twitter, Facebook, Skype and other platforms into the broadcast.

“According to research, the 24 to 30-year-old crowd, they’re global thinkers,” remarked Shihabi. “They’re tech-savvy and interested in international news…Al Jazeera is appealing to that demographic, which we saw with Al Jazeera English.”

With the debut just days away, Al Jazeera America has been busy piloting programs, even breaking in with live news from events in Egypt to test the channel’s capabilities and work out last minute kinks.

“We are absolutely ready for next week’s launch,” Shihabi said with confidence. “We’re not just ready, we’re more than ready.”

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Norman LearVariety Showrunners Dinner, Inside, Los

    Norman Lear Accepts Creative Conscience Award at Variety Showrunners Dinner

    Norman Lear accepted Variety’s Creative Conscience Award Tuesday night at the publication’s annual Showrunners Dinner. The award honors Lear for his work promoting important causes both inside and outside the entertainment industry. Lear, who appears on the current cover of Variety, recently renewed his overall deal at Sony Pictures Television. Speaking at the Showrunners Dinner [...]

  • Maria Bartiromo

    Maria Bartiromo Renews Pact With Fox News Media

    Maria Bartiromo will be on Fox Business Network and Fox News Channel for a while longer, after striking a new multi-year deal with Fox News Media. “Her exceptional insights and incredible work ethic have been of tremendous value to Fox Business and Fox News and we’re thrilled to have her continue anchoring each of her [...]

  • Lisa Simpson Tapped as Head of

    Lisa Simpson Tapped as New Head of Talent Relations at Fox Entertainment

    Fox Entertainment has appointed Lisa Simpson as its new head of talent relations. In her senior vice president role, Simpson will oversee the talent relations team, providing strategic support to all of the company’s talent and their representatives. She will report directly to Jean Guerin, executive vice president of publicity and corporate communications at the [...]

  • Mark-Paul Gosselaar 'Was Never Approached' for

    Mark-Paul Gosselaar Says He 'Was Never Approached' for 'Saved by the Bell' Revival

    The Bayside gang is reuniting, but Zack Morris isn’t invited — for the time being, at least. Mark-Paul Gosselaar, who played the good-looking yet incorrigible Zack in NBC’s beloved “Saved by the Bell” series, said he was never approached to take part in the show’s forthcoming TV sequel, which will reprise roles from Mario Lopez [...]

  • Contract Placeholder Business WGA ATA Agent

    How Showrunners Handled Staffing Season Amid WGA-ATA Feud

    This year’s TV staffing season wasn’t quite like any before. Described as a “free for all” by “Batwoman” creator and showrunner Caroline Dries and “like the Wild Wild West” by “Legacies” creator and showrunner Julie Plec, the WGA-ATA debacle has had deep-seated effects on the way showrunners staff their writers’ rooms and search for fresh [...]

  • 2020 TV Season Preview

    How 2020's Fall TV Season Is Already Shaping Up

    Aiming to stand out in a crowded field, broadcasters this season have leaned on the stability of their schedules and the return of established hits. But for many of the same reasons, they’ve also begun to seed the ground for next year’s crop of shows, considering that top performers like “How to Get Away With [...]

  • David E Kelley

    Looking Back on David E. Kelley's History-Making Double Emmy Wins 20 Years Later

    David E. Kelley thought there’d been a mistake. On Sept. 12, 1999, the prolific showrunner was backstage at the Shrine Auditorium, having just accepted the best drama series Emmy for “The Practice,” when he heard his name called again. Kelley immediately figured that the producers were summoning him out again to take the award away [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content