Al Jazeera America Debuts With Few Ads and Attacks on Coverage


al-jazeera-americaAl Jazeera America debuted on cable networks in the United States on Tuesday with few major advertisers and amid criticism that its coverage of the Egyptian crisis was sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood.

The network, which is owned and financed by the oil-rich nation of Qatar, began operating on cable channels that carried Current TV.

Al Jazeera reportedly paid former Democratic Vice President Al Gore and his partners $500 million for the struggling liberal Current TV news channel in January.

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“It’s hard to sell [ad time] to an American buyer,” a New York advertising agency buyer told The New York Post on Tuesday. “There’s so much backlash. I’d never advise anyone to buy it. It’s a much easier way to get that audience with less risk.”

Based in New York, Al Jazeera America seeks to compete with Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC for a U.S. audience, despite a deep distrust of the Arab nation in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the Iraq war.

After the attacks on New York City and the Pentagon, Al Jazeera broadcast video from Osama bin Laden and did a live interview with the mass murderer.

And even though its deep pockets have allowed the network to hire a staff of 850 and create 12 bureaus in the United States – including 70 more worldwide – Al Jazeera America premiered on Tuesday with only six minutes of commercials each hour, the Post reported.

That, compared with 15 to 17 minutes of commercials for its competitors, the Post wrote.

Several of Current TV’s advertisers pulled out when the Al Jazeera deal was announced.

Time Warner Cable also dropped Current shortly after the deal became public, cutting Al Jazeera America’s anticipated viewership to 48 million homes, compared with about 100 million for its competitors.

Al Jazeera America also is not carried by Cablevision in the New York region, the Post reports.

Most of the ads running on the network Tuesday were in-house promos and local spots, the Post reported.

“I wouldn’t give them a dime, especially since we are in New York,” one advertiser, who asked not to be named, told the Post.

“They’re owned by an Arab country and they ran the bin Laden tapes,” he added. “I just wouldn’t trust them.”

A major buyer for another ad agency who was pitched on the channel was even more blunt: “Not touching that one.”

Al Jazeera America lauds the low rate of commercials as a boon to viewers.

“[Advertisers] have been especially interested in our decision to limit the number of commercial minutes each hour and how our commitment to fact-based, unbiased and in-depth reporting appeals to the same audience they are trying to reach,” a spokesman told the Post.

Online, too, the advertising presence is almost nonexistent, the Post reports. The website is still in “beta” test mode.

Ehab Al Shihabi, Al Jazeera America’s CEO, acknowledged to the Post last week that surveys showed 75 percent of Americans hadn’t seen any of the network’s coverage but still had a negative view of it, though he added that sentiment often softened once people viewed it.

Al Jazeera America is running ads in The New Yorker and in other major U.S. media publications, asking audiences to give it a chance and promising that its global perspective will “change the way you look at news.”
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