What We Can Learn From The Costly Failure Of Al Jazeera America

The cable news channel Al Jazeera was born in 1996 in the small principality of Qatar. It was nothing less than revolutionary for the world of Arabic media. It dared to criticize nearly everyone and everything, it was not controlled by a stodgy bureaucracy, and it would not be dictated to by oppressive regimes in the region. It was a young channel, staffed by many idealistic types who had been educated in the West.

But the station came to be demonized in the West in general and in the United States in particular. It would not toe the neo-con party line in the early 2000s during the Iraq invasion, and threatened to report a side of the war that threatened Washington’s policies in the region. Some American leaders used it to deflect attention from their warmongering policies, and predictably, public opinion in the United States came to see it as some sort of radicalist mouthpiece. It was absurd, but such is the influence of ignorance and fear-mongering.

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So everyone knew it would be a risk when the station announced in 2013 that it would launch a cable station in the United States called “Al Jazeera America” (or “AJAM”). Recently, the station announced it would close in the early weeks of January 2016. After spending a huge amount of money on the project, the bosses in Doha, Qatar decided it was time to call it quits.

What had happened? How had the global network failed to penetrate the American market? The reasons are varied, and offer many learning points to any organization aspiring to become a media brand.

Problems With Cable Distributors

Problems developed early on when major cable distributors like Comcast and DirecTV declined to carry the channel. Right before the channel launched in 2016, it was dropped by AT&T U-verse.

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The reasons boiled down to two things: (1) lack of confidence that people wanted yet another cable channel; and (2) a vague feeling of unease in anything coming from the Middle East.

Failure To Brand Effectively

Branding and marketing are critical, as everyone who runs a business should know. Every product needs an identity, and that identity should be positive, not negative. A negative perception always hovered around Al Jazeera, albeit unjustifiably. But the channel should have done something to rebrand itself.

Al Jazeera English (AJE, the English-language version of the channel) had actually been (and continues to be) a success. Al Jazeera had also started successful media niches in the Balkans and in Turkey. It is basically a liberal-oriented network on the model of the BBC or CNN. But entering the American market itself was an entirely different matter.

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The channel should have changed its name and logo. The perceived taint from the Iraq war days (even though unjustified) was just too strong. Perceptions, not reality, are what matter.

Expensive, Non-Performing Purchases

Another bad thing to happen was the channel’s purchase of Al Gore’s “Current TV” station. It paid about $500 million for Current TV, which was never popular to begin with. It had no audience and no real identity. The station itself was carried by less than half of all cable subscribers, so AJAM found itself saddled with expensive baggage that was not performing.

Gore made out like a bandit.  He dumped his useless channel on the unsuspecting Qataris, then took the money and ran. This was without doubt a bad business decision by Doha. It failed to see that the future of news was on the internet, not on cable, as things had been in 1996. It was using logic that had been valid for 1996, but was not valid for 2016. AJAM had at least three expensive locations in New York City, one of which came with an outrageously high monthly rental cost.

Problems With Cable Contracts

The station was not able to deal with the US cable contracts that negated the main strengths of AJE. AJE’s streaming feed is very popular, but AJAM had to block access to the AJE feed on the station, a move that alienated many potential viewers. The reason was that AJAM could not afford to permit a free live stream on its cable station. It needed subscribers and revenue, and a free live feed gained it neither of these.

Needless Human Drama

There was also personal drama. No less than five high-level female executives resigned amid rumors of “sexism” and a “culture of fear” at the station. For whatever reason, AJAM was unable to solve these problems in a way that remained discreet and behind closed doors. This may be ascribed to a failure to understand (to put it tactfully) American norms of political correctness.

Joie Chen, host of the new Al Jazeera America nightly news program America Tonight, sits at the anchor desk in the network's studio space at the Newseum in Washington, DC, August 16, 2013. Al Jazeera America, a cable news network set to launch on August 20, will have 12 bureaus in major cities in the US, three broadcast centers, a headquarters in New York City, and around 900 journalists and staff. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

And none of these expensive executives did anything tangible for the company, either. Despite the huge amounts of money being pumped into the station, AJAM failed to lead any significant news stories or carve out a niche market. Huge salaries were being paid to people who were occupying space and doing little.

Failure To Focus On The Internet

In retrospect, AJAM should have stuck to its internet guns. The future lay in streaming news on the internet, not in 1990s cable news channels. Digital, not cable, was the wave of the future. In retrospect, rather than start a new cable channel, Doha should have either started a new internet site focusing on American content, or it should have paid existing cable companies to carry its already-proven AJE content and programs. That would have saved it huge amounts of money. As oil prices began to fall in 2015, Doha simply made the decision to pull the plug on the project, rather than try to reform it.

Hindsight is always perfect, but these do seem to be the most articulable lessons from the demise of AJAM. They are lessons that every media company, including Return of Kings, should keep in mind.

Read More: 11 Ways To Survive A Media Shitstorm

79 thoughts on “What We Can Learn From The Costly Failure Of Al Jazeera America”

    1. In the minds of American audiences, might as well have been: Death to America News…
      “Hello again, and welcome to this morning’s broadcast of Death to America Morning News or DAMN, we’re glad to start the day off with you, and now the news: Today fifteen Americans and 9 Brits were killed in a suicide bombing, way to go boys, virgins on the way…Death to America will be right back after this commercial break.”

    2. The CEO, of Al-Jazeera U.S., was a complete nutbar; I mean borderline sociopath. He was the cousin of some Arab sheikh and treated anyone not from his clan back home like 4th class citizens and his slaves. Many of the journalists and investigative reporters left quickly.
      The points raised in this article are valid, but not the principal reason.

  1. Although not perfect, I have always found Al Jazeera’s reporting to be lightyears ahead of CNN or Fox. The content is far superior.

    1. They have excellent, first-rate, investigative documentaries. That was straight out of the old BBC handbook. The Beeb, before being taken over by degenerates and scoundrels, produced some of the finest documentaries, and conducted first-class investigative journalism. It’s now a 3rd rate tabloid trash institution, thanks largely to the PC scumbags.

    2. Disagree. It has a bias that is unusual for us in the west, which can be refreshing, but I find the level of bias and deceitful reporting to be higher. I have friends who like to get their news from Al Jazeera and I just can’t understand why.

  2. BS article, the station was just a mouth piece for islamic interests. Full of bias and obvious agenda. Who needs this?

      1. I always thought AJAM is more left than AL Jazeera English. Al Jazeera arabic is totally different. They are more “right wing”.

  3. Nah they pulled out early to save the embarrassment of being told “they have to go back” after an historical and beautiful Trump landslide <3 hard to run an moslem new station if moslems can’t get in.

    1. I discuss that in the article. Close. Gore sold his bullshit station “Current TV” to AJAM for an inflated price, then took the money and ran. AJAM was left holding a pile of shit.

        1. A good point but I put him in the same group as the rest of them earning a nice living after leaving office. Bush did the same, the Clintons made out nicely and Obama will do the same.
          They’ll all fuck up this country and government making deals for personal gain. They will all, then, live a comfortable life screwing people over in the private sector as well. It’s why many politicians are just scum (doesn’t matter the party).

  4. Name and logo aside, the future of news is on the internet. A news reader spewing state and corporate controlled narratives from behind polished desks is no longer trust-worthy. The money and infrastructure to create and maintain a news network smacks of controlled messages and propaganda.
    Many of us have various websites and blogs we visit to gather our information, from the sources that we attempt to trust, we are reaffirmed in our opinion “below the fold” as it were…the comments section.
    When we gather and discuss the articles and news events in forums anonymously then we are not just reading the news, we are engaged, we can challenge the narrative, enrich the concept and provided ancillary supporting facts.
    The future of news is on the internet, bolstered by comment sections. TV news is no longer trusted and cannot repair the damage it has caused.

    1. This is likely true, and even beyond that there will not be much of a place for the old guard/msm online as visits to their sites show the comments being thoroughly censored (check CBC or even Fox) rather for language or for perceived offense, “insulting tone,” or misogynist language. Non-conformist thought or those labeled certain ways suffer bans and comment deletion, proving the major companies have no interest in open discourse.

      1. Indeed, censorship doesn’t need to be a government action when MSM websites are all to happy to impose a “Terms of use” to their comments section.
        Even tools used for communication aside from news reporting…Twitter and Facebook are all to happy to institute self imposing censorship.

        1. More than this, the sites even come loaded with an embedded, nearly automated, behavioral modification mechanism, the time-proven positive/negative enforcement of like/dislike.

        2. It will be the death of these society media sites as well. When you can no longer have open discussions about anything because it’s perceived as “hate” then you no longer have a useful forum.
          All we need to do is remember these social media sites “back when” and then look at them today. YouTube is another example of them taking over a forum (a narrative). They only want to pump out what they feel is needed (necessary) and they’ll block the rest of it under the “terms of use” or “hate speech”. It’s a good reason to not use any of them.

        3. Like I said above, a major reason for that is whenever Drudge links an to a news article, the “Drudgeistas” swarm the comments section like flies on dung, and post the most mindless comments imaginable. I can see the news sites losing patience with that.

    2. I agree and good points.
      Also the comment about
      “No less than five high-level female executives resigned amid rumors of “sexism” and a “culture of fear” at the station. ”
      Women can ruin a good thing. It probably happened here as well as ESPN (many can see why it happened to both). The news used to mean stories, facts, stats, etc….but today these companies want to throw a pretty face on the screen, talk about personal “feelings” behind the stories, etc…it caters to women only. I watched the death of ESPN with this model as more women took over the station, stats went away and it became a sports “lifetime” station. This station was no exception.
      I can no longer watch the news because of women (and feelings) but also because of the state propaganda that we used to criticize the former Soviet Union of displaying to its citizens. It’s a sad time but now we choose which stories are worth the time (no more narrative..it’s a click away).

        1. Because they don’t talk about sports. They are a pretty face (and body) to get men to watch…but it’s the feel good shit that I can’t stand. It used to be all about the sport (the stats) but now it’s another reality TV show (on a sports network). No thanks.

        2. It’s not that. If a woman knows her sports then fine. But ESPN turned into Jezebel. It’s so easy to see what happens. Women get upper level positions they didn’t earn. So do they appreciate that, set aside their youthful ‘inequality’ delusions and just get to work? OH…..oh, man…oh…oh, ha ha ha HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA.
          No. Of course they just triple down on their feminist anger after getting handed everything on a platter and having their asses kissed every second of their ‘unfair’ lives.
          Look at Obama and his “Bigotry!” cry-sessions. Give these demographics some unearned clout and they will dance with the one that brought them. They will go straight back to their identity ‘injustices’ and keep crying. It worked so well the first time. They keep doing it.
          Longer than I intended but that’s what happened at ESPN. A bunch of women on auto-pilot, falling back on ‘rage,’ again and whatever other chintzy issue.

        3. I checked the website just now and it looks like (at least today) they’ve toned it down. Only a few articles about DV and a weak attempt to take another run at Jameis Winston. I wonder if around the Sheryl Sandberg “Lean In” bullshit that ESPN took some serious ratings hits. Maybe they’ve been forced to quit fucking around with their feminism. Imagine the rage of the feminists around the office. “Stupid men don’t care about how often we’re being raped. Stupid! Stupid white racists! Stupid male sexists!”
          Ratings are not public arguments though where men must yield to any feminist or racial clamoring. It’s different when men can just refuse to click on their website. They had to acquiesce (or so it seems today).

    3. I agree. The failure of the major telecoms to carry Al Jazeera proves a least somewhat that only certain messages and narratives will be tolerated in mainstream outlets. The lies leading up to the invasion of Iraq proves that the large news stations are just government mouthpieces.

    4. If you think news on the internet is more trust worthy then you are naive. Comment sections are heavily censored now. Comments that don’t parrot the article are automatically downvoted or outright deleted.

      1. Internet news groups and forums nourished the alt-right movement. TV news keeps the population asleep.
        Not everything online is perfect, but its FAR superior to what TV offers in the way of information to current events.
        Calling me naive without comprehending what I wrote suggests you’re a mental midget or you’re looking for a fight. Go dangle.

  5. Maybe it’s explicit in the writeup and I’m just blind, but who is/was the backing behind AJAM? Was this funded by the Qatari government, some investment group, or what? Burning $500M on Gore’s cable company is no joke, and seems like it was an effort to buy political goodwill; who was willing to front the billions the total investment must have taken?

  6. Al Jazeera started as an unbiased News Station. Free from Qatari government or any other kind of control. And for a while, it was the most reliable Arabic News Channel in the Middle East.
    But this only lasted for a while. By 2007, they were already skewing News stories to Qatari National Interest. This paved the road for multiple Arabic News Channels being launched in the Middle East. These channels would not have had a chance were it not for the fact that Al Jazeera was no longer a reliable source.
    So yes, the US was going to be difficult to penetrate. But they have lost respect and viewers back home as well.

    1. the only way to save cable TV is to either make it so cheap no one would think about it, like say..$1 or 2 a month and even thats pushing it..or just give it away for free.

  7. lol @ the women complaining about sexism from a muslim-owned station. what the fuck did they think they were getting into? Did they not notice all the women with their entire bodies covered?

    1. But but the left has told us the Muslim male is a misunderstood gentlemen, he is kind and gentle. One must simply…..ahahahahaha I cant even finish that shit.

  8. No comments on news sites means no credibility.
    And that is what they must be made to recognize.
    What are they hiding, or trying to control?? Preventing comments means fundamentally that the site is:
    a) against free speech
    b) wants to control the message –ie they are propaganda
    c) knows they will LOSE in a real exchange of ideas
    d) is admitting they don’t want to engage with their target audience, only control and dictate.

    1. Exactly, or … they go the way of the king of tabloid trash, the NY Times, in which comments are strictly moderated. It’s a disgrace. Any opinion that differs from the mainstream lies and deceit is disallowed. Un-fkn-believable. So you get this stale, flat, pathetic comments section devoid of any meaning.

    2. well said. This is an issue everyone should be exercised about. Nothing annoys me more when there’s an important article accompanied by ‘comments closed’ or more usually nothing at all

      1. Sites that have adopted this no commenting policy in recent months:
        Bloomberg
        CNN
        Financial Times

        1. I’ve noticed it happening a lot unofficially as well. If you click on an article on a sensitive topic chances are there will be no comments allowed – true of the UK telegraph and even the guardian. This is sometimes justified on the grounds that moderation is too expensive.

        2. CNN…what a shock.
          They’ve gone so far to the left, they might as well covert it to a 24 hour tranny disco party for midget eskimos.

      2. The reason for that is whenever Drudge links an to a news article, the “Drudgeistas” swarm the comments section like flies on dung, and post the most mindless comments imaginable. I can see the news sites losing patience with that.

        1. But why should they lose patience? The only plausible reason I can think of is that they are trying to moderate the comments, which is really just another way of saying they’re trying to police what people say, and they become overwhelmed by the fact that the majority of comments aren’t fitting the narrative they want to put out. If the comments are mindless, it shouldn’t be a problem to ignore them – their mindlessness should speak for itself.
          Personally, I don’t care if private parties censor the comments they will allow on their sites. Read any comments section that is open, and it’s pretty clear that you aren’t going to have an intelligent conversation with anyone, no matter which side you are on. So, what’s the real loss? Further, I think a lot of the concern over censored comments is overblown. Prior to the internet, there was no commenting on a news article. Period. It was published, and if it pissed you off, you could write a letter to the editor that was unlikely to be published. Or, you could try to overcome prohibitive finances to publish and disseminate your own message. Today, we have a host of alternate forums to discuss opposing ideas, they can be established and widely distributed for very little money, and you can link back to the idea you opposed in the first place. So, censorship may be going on, but its really a bigger problem for the censors.
          Censoring comments is a bad idea, particularly if you do it piecemeal (only on some articles, or worse, only for certain viewpoints), because it just makes you look biased. If you’re focused on crafting and controlling a narrative, you’re not engaged in “journalism,” you’re engaged in “advocacy.”

    3. Absolutely. They have their agenda and don’t want any other opinion. I always commented on media sites that were shovelling bullshit.

  9. Quintus, you missed the big one: who the fuck needs another left slanted news outlet? There are already too many to count, and there’s just nothing new to add. That it was Arabic was not the last nail in its coffin, it was the last shovelfull of dirt on the grave.

    1. A truly-left slanted TV/Cable news outlet?? Maybe, just maybe MSNBC, and NPR on the weekends. Otherwise, it’s either neoconservative (Fox) or corporate-centrist (all the rest)

      1. If you’re trying to tell me that MSNBC is a “maybe,” that says everything we need to know about the slant you view things through. To me, this is all “left,” including Fox, which is happy to argue for intervention in my personal affairs on its own pet issues for the supposed “greater good.” To me – favoring government intervention is “left” and favoring individual freedom is “right.” So all of it is left because the only thing they’re arguing about is which sets of issues justify government telling you how to run your life.
        But this is irrelevant – my point is that Al Jazeera offers nothing new. They are another voice in a sea of similar voices, no matter what slant you think they have. Why should you watch them over any of the others that are better known and more established? If you’re not selling something new, or at the very least improved, I have no incentive to watch.
        That’s the point.

  10. Ultimately if failed because there wasn’t an audience in america big enough to support it. Most americans think foreign coverage of american news isn’t as good as american coverage of american news. Americans don’t watch foreign news channels in general no matter the source.

  11. Al Jazeera was criticized both by reactionary Muslims as well as the West. Each side was convinced Al Jazeera was biased in favor of the other.
    Quintus Curtius’s soap-boxing against “warmongers” (a title I wear proudly) aside, the article pinpoints very succinctly why it was not only a bad idea, but a poorly executed business plan. They had almost no idea how to market to its core audience in the U.S.: a few intellectuals who were interested in consuming foreign news media aside from the BBC.

    1. I agree. AJ could have easily beaten what I refer to as “airport” news shows in the more intelligent American market. Easily

  12. Al Jazeera America was pointless. You can already access most of their content online on the Al Jazeera website. They were attempting to break into a small market of individuals who still watch cable news and believe it is real reporting. Fox and CNN are nothing more than background noise for Govt buildings.

  13. The name and especially the logo hamstrung them from the start. Too many people remember that logo covering insurgents in the war in Iraq at the height of the hostilities. You see that and immediately have a negative impression.

  14. “public opinion in the United States came to see it as some sort of
    radicalist mouthpiece. It was absurd, but such is the influence of
    ignorance and fear-mongering.”
    No it was not. It consistently chose to show white American Christian males in the worst possible light by always being intellectually dishonest (saying Mexico was wonderful to immigrants unlike America by showing rich American retirees living there while ignoring Mexico’s southern wall and strict C Amer deportation policies), and sometimes by flat out lying (Peyton Manning non drug scandal).

  15. Al-Jazeera America should have learned lessons from RT as to how to crack the US market as a “rogue” media outlet.

  16. The reason politicians kept them off cable was because they were anti-Israel. They tried to mitigate this by staffing AJA with Jews, and managed to get their foot though the door, but by then it was too little too late.
    AJ generally pushed Washington’s line on Ukraine, Syria, and Libya. And the Jew line advised by their “consultants” on immigration, “black lives matter”, etc. Russia Today provides a fresh point of view that closer reflects what Americans think despite being just as “foreign”, so it is far more successful.

  17. I always knew that nobody in America was interested in this channel, but I thought the Arabs would keep running it even if they lost money, as propaganda. But finally they didn’t. I say good riddance. The last thing I want is hypocritical Arabs talking about “misoginy” in the US.
    Look at this dumb article for example : http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2014/6/feminism-boys-educationmisogynysexismgenderequality.html
    Arabs telling us how we must raise feminist boys. This is totally absurd and insulting. They made tons and tons of articles like this. Basically Arabs financing feminist propaganda in the west in an attempt to destroy us. Good riddance!

  18. So glad this isnt an issue of a muslim media or an ideological piece. Its a business and strategy piece and its better for it.

    1. Unfortunately, yes it is. “public opinion in the United States came to see it as some sort of radicalist mouthpiece. It was absurd, but such is the influence of ignorance and fear-mongering.”

      1. I have watched it, it’s not a ‘radicalist mouthpiece’, despite the reputation. A lot of the criticism of it seems to come from people who have never watched it and just assume that it is full of Islamic terrorist propaganda. (and no, I wasn’t a fan)

  19. I have 8 Portugese language channels. 4 Polish channels. 2 Korean. Over 130 Spanish channels. Hell I even have a Lakota (Native-American) language channel. For 100 mile radius its 97% white people…

  20. with this name and logo, their only remote chance to succeed in the western world was to broadcast free porn non-stop 24/7 – and still unlikely.
    most people wouldn’t tell their logo from ISIS, and their name from al-Nusra or another al-Horror coming from the middle east.

  21. “AJAM failed to lead any significant news stories or carve out a niche market” that would be sufficient. But I often found their stories to have a slant — for example their coverage of Israel/Palestine was far from objective in all cases. (example http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/10/israel-excess-force-palestinian-children-decried-151021140956296.html; one would have no idea from reading this article that there is a 3rd mini-intifada of stabbing campaigns going on right now)

    1. Is there really a mini-intifada going on, or is that what Israel and its Christo-Zionist camp followers want you to think? Beware the hype.

      1. Yeah, there is. There’s a new stabbing victim in the (Israeli, never US or foreign) news every other day or so. Obviously you have a whole “thing” going on, but if it were propaganda, there would at least be a push to spread it to the global media, which there hasn’t.

  22. It failed because there is no market for this type of news. It angered racists. News favorable to the middle east doesn’t really appeal to liberals despite how many times they defend muslims. So basically no one watched it.

  23. ” Huge salaries were being paid to people who were occupying space and doing little.” Was it the “no less than five high-level female executives”.? 🙂

  24. I have not watched cable news in DECADES! Good grief, aside from glancing at the flat screen in my law school’s student lounge back in 2007, when I have ever looked at CNN or BBC for that matter?

    1. Same here. Network news (i.e. the ones at 6:30 Eastern Time) is OK, but cable news tends to be rubbish, and that goes for Fox, CNN and MSNBC (the only ones on my cable package).

  25. I had a glance of cable news the other day. An anchor was interviewing an analyst for their network (another reporter). Apparently they think interviewing themselves constitutes news. Speaks volumes about them.

  26. The only pitiable reason to watch Al Jazeera would the possibility of a Richelle Carey wardrobe malfunction.
    Other than that, i can’t think of any GOOD reason to watch Jihad TV other than to have your head explode on occasion…excuse the double entendre 😛

  27. ”No less than five high-level female executives resigned amid rumors of “sexism” and a “culture of fear” at the station.”
    ”And none of these expensive executives did anything tangible for the company, either. ”
    Join the dots…..

  28. Good Morning you Western devils …All praise Allah and death to America!!
    I am an unbiased Journalist – of course

  29. I visited AJE in Dec 2013 and was fortunate to speak to its executive producer. The article fails to identify the key problem with AJE: namely, it was no different than any other NYC based media outlet. Most of the staff was hold overs from Current. Those that were added were pick ups from Big 3, or CNN or Fox. The strength AJ should have brought, international coverage, was ignored for trying to be just another mainstream media news source. The name was an advantage. The opportunity to bring a legitimately different view point. That name was squandered as it just scrambled to be CNN with squiggly print. The caricature that dumb americans didn’t want no muslims speakin’ arabic is a lie told by a media elite desperate to maintain the idea that they are smarter than anyone realizes. AJE failed because it brought nothing new in a market already over crowded with mediocre and insular news stations.

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