How Al Jazeera’s AJ+ Became One of the Biggest Video Publishers on Facebook

AJ+ Aljazeera
Courtesy of AJ+

Al Jazeera isn’t exactly the media brand that comes to mind as a top choice for today’s news junkies. And yet, a year after its launch, Al Jazeera’s AJ+ offshoot has emerged as a huge success story, thanks largely to Facebook video.

Videos from AJ+ have been viewed more than 430 million times over the last 90 days on Facebook, according to Facebook data shared by the Al Jazeera offshoot. In June AJ+ became the ninth biggest video publisher on the social network, according to video sharing data aggregated by NewsWhip, which lists AJ+ as second only to Nowthis among news publishers.

And growth seems to be accelerating: Last week alone, AJ+ videos made it into the feeds of 153 million Facebook users, and more than 24 million people engaged with posts from AJ+. Facebook now makes up well over 50% of AJ+’s audience.

So how does a news upstart get so successful on Facebook, while many traditional news publishers have failed to catch on? “A lot of these publishers have not thought about Facebook as its own product,” said AJ+ engagement lead Jigar Mehta during an interview this week.

Other publishers often just reshare the same clips they have produced for their own website, YouTube or even TV. AJ+, on the other hand, specifically produces videos for Facebook to both find the right message for that audience and tweak the clips for their viewing behavior.

That includes making videos work without sound, since Facebook automatically plays all videos muted. AJ+ clips often take striking images and combine them with short captions that keep viewers hooked. Clips are seldom over 90 seconds, and often include an obvious hook within the first few seconds. And at the end of every video, AJ+ includes a call to share.

Facebook has been pushing hard in recent months to compete with YouTube. The social network has changed its algorithms to better serve the right videos to the right audience, and is experimenting with a number of other tweaks to make video more pervasive, including a persistent video player that will help users to watch clips while scrolling through their news feed. Facebook said in April that its members were now watching more than 4 billion videos a day.

Earlier this month, Facebook began to share video ad revenue with select publishers, with the goal of opening up video ad monetization to additional partners in the coming months. AJ+ itself isn’t monetizing its videos at all yet, but Mehta said that his team is exploring a number of options, including traditional video ads and native advertising.

Al Jazeera began incubating the offshoot in 2013, with the intent to build a new kind of media outlet for people who don’t watch traditional news networks on TV anymore. In September 2014 AJ+ launched with an app for iOS and Android while simultaneously publishing to Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. AJ+ purposely didn’t build out its own website, trying to find new users in their social streams instead.

As part of this approach, AJ+ has a dedicated social team in its newsroom, which tweaks the length and content of videos for each platform. Mehta argued that having people squarely focused on and immersed in Facebook is essential to mastering the network. “It’s all about setting up that kind of culture,” he said.

That’s also why AJ+ has been slow to add additional platforms. “For us, taking on a new platform is a big deal,” he said. Still, some time in the coming months, AJ+ wants to make the jump onto Snapchat, relaunch its apps and even get a proper web presence.

The growing audience of AJ+ stands in stark contrast to Al Jazeera’s other efforts to cater to U.S. viewers. For years, the Qatar-based media organization failed to get carriage agreements for its international Al Jazeera English news channel.

After buying, it launched Al Jazeera America in August 2013 with the aim of providing an in-depth alternative to the existing cable news networks. However, the network has been able to attract only miniscule audiences, and has struggled internally with a wrongful-termination lawsuit and the ouster of former network head Ehab Al Shihabi in June.

Compared to that, AJ+ seems to be a real success story for Al Jazeera — so much so that the company is getting ready to launch an Arabic version of AJ+, and is even exploring other languages. “I think the mothership is very happy,” said Mehta.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    AJ+ is owned by Al Jazeera, which is owned, lavishly funded, and operated by the royal family of Qatar, the emirate’s dynastic dictators — who also happen to be funders of Hamas, a U.S. government-designated terrorist group, and the Muslim Brotherhood.

  2. Maggie says:

    I actually liked them initially. They hook you in with good stuff…but in the end you see the consistency of how they use you to believe they are a good company. You see that they actually have their own political agenda in the end. It doesn’t take a dummy.

  3. Steve says:

    Some of their stuff is similar to NowThis, but they also have documentaries, animated videos and good interviews.

  4. Darren Elders says:

    Isn’t this just a copy of NowThis?

    • Umar says:

      Seem so, only with more money thanks to Qatari oil. They just repackage other people’s content by slapping some cheeky text and their logo on top.

  5. Al Jazeera is “even exploring other languages” – Of course, we’d be delighted to help! E.g. setting up multilingual subtitling or voiceover translation for your prime video reports, for a selection of language groups.

  6. Jigar Mehta says:

    It’s a really exciting time for us at AJ+. I’m incredibly proud of the entire team in San Francisco, Doha and around the globe that helped build AJ+ to what it is today.

    We are always looking for new partners to join us as we bring fresh, informative content to our audiences globally. Drop me a line if you want to discuss more.

    • Umar says:

      It helps when you have deeper pockets than anyone else thanks to the open tap of funding from Qatar’s oil fund.

    • Kevin Gong says:

      Hi Jigar, congratulations on being a part of this revolutionary method of news production/publication! My name is Kevin, and I am a fifth year UC Davis student studying International Relations and Community Development and I’m teaching myself media production and graphic design on the side. Working for an organization like AJ+ would be a dream come true. Would you mind giving advice on how I could end up on a career path that will help me contribute my skills to AJ+ or a similar entity? Any advice and resources would be greatly appreciated. Thanks for everything, love AJ+!!

      • Jigar Mehta says:

        Big fan of UC Davis, I went to Berkeley. My advice is simple, follow your passion and be passionate in your work, folks will notice and that will lead to better opportunities. We have internships and fellowships at AJ+, google it and apply if you think it sounds cool.

  7. Digidave says:

    I’m an EP at AJ+ and we are having a blast working on our videos. I’ve been in the media industry for over a decade now and one thing that I think adds to our success which might be overlooked is our diversity. It’s the most diverse newsroom I’ve ever worked in. The variety of backgrounds, expertise and viewpoints adds to our coverage.

  8. Steve says:

    Been watching these guys for a few months now, they have some great videos.

  9. DzV says:

    Shallow and uninformed assessment of AJ media coverage and relevance. It’s dominant media in the Middle East, a good part of Aftica and frequently watched in Europe and Asia. It provides more timely and better global coverage than any other global news. I have been watching it since 2005 simultaneously with BBC and CNN and outperforms both in many areas. Ancors don’t act like the whole business is about them instead of news. It can be very brutal with documentaries and sometimes to focused on Palestine but when it comes to coverage in my opinion is the best. Could be a bit more balanced like BBC though.

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