Current TV, Al Jazeera Deal Tries to Lure U.S. Viewers
Hillary Clinton and some other Americans who want a global perspective may be fans of the Qatar-based news service Al Jazeera, but will Americans tune in to its new English channel?
Owned by the government of Qatar but broadcast across 130 countries, the Arab-language news service says it is planning to replace the Current TV cable network it is purchasing with its own English programming.
Current TV, founded by former vice president Al Gore in 2005, is based in San Francisco. The purchase price has not been disclosed but the New York Times reports people with knowledge of the deal estimate it was worth $500 million. Gore owned 20 percent of Current TV.
Shortly after the announcement, Time Warner Cable said it was dropping Current TV.
Al Jazeera says about 50 percent of traffic to the Al Jazeera English website comes from the U.S. and Canada.
Simon Dumenco, media columnist at Advertising Age, is skeptical whether millions of new American viewers will watch.
"I hate to say it, but I think a good number of Americans, among those that have even heard of Al Jazeera, are suspicious of it by default," he said. "There's a certain segment of the population that's just going to be automatically suspicious of anything that starts with 'Al,' like Al Qaeda - or Al Gore, for that matter."
"The network's branding, from its name to its calligraphic Arabic logo, isn't exactly targeted to the American mainstream," Dumenco said. "As Al Jazeera expands its footprint in the U.S., is it willing to tweak its branding to appeal to the average heartland channel-surfer? That remains to be seen."
The site certainly has its fans.
Al Jazeera English has previously been awarded the Columbia Journalism Award, a DuPont award, and a George Polk award.
In March 2011, Hillary Clinton voiced criticism of American media outlets and said Al Jazeera was "real news."
"You may not agree with it, but you feel like you're getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and, you know, arguments between talking heads and the kind of stuff that we do on our news which, you know, is not particularly informative to us, let alone foreigners," Clinton said.