Al Jazeera America is taking to the airwaves Tuesday afternoon, bringing what the station pledges will be fact-driven, in-depth reporting that stands in contrast to much of the current cable television landscape.
As the New York Times reported, the station’s acting chief executive, Ehab Al Shihabi, said in a conference call last week that the new station will have “less opinion, less yelling and fewer celebrity sightings” than other channels. It also promises fewer ads than other stations, the report said, with six minutes of commercials per hour.
The launch comes less than a year after the Qatar-based news giant Al Jazeera bought the Current TV network in January. As the Times reported, the sale, valued at around $500 million, gave Al Jazeera a long-desired foothold in the American news market after years of failing to get wider U.S. distribution for its existing English-language channel.
The new station faces a few challenges, such as getting Americans to tune in the first place. Al Jazeera America will replace Current TV in about 48 million American households, the Times reported, nearly half of the estimated 100 million U.S. television subscribers. In order to win carriage on those cable networks, the company has had to end its live Internet stream of its English-language programming in the United States. That likely means that the company will have to work to build a following among an older set of news viewers, as well as draw in the often younger audience that watches news online.
Another obstacle: The Al Jazeera name still carries negative associations with many Americans who primarily know the news giant for broadcasting video messages from Osama bin Laden in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Perhaps to burnish its image with American audiences, the network is launching with mostly original Al Jazeera America content and has hired journalists already known to many American viewers.
Those who tune in will see familiar faces such as former CBS News correspondent Joie Chen at the helm of the network’s flagship news magazine program, CNN alum Ali Velshi on a business-focused program and former NBC News anchor John Seigenthaler behind the desk of a nightly newscast. Other notable names include former “Good Morning America” journalist Antonio Mora, who is hosting a current affairs program, investigative team lead Edward Pound and former CNN reporter Soledad O’Brien, who will file segments to the news magazine show and produce documentaries through her own Starfish Media Group. The network will also have a technology program, “TechKnow,” that will focus on science and technology news.
The network has bureaus in New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Nashville, New Orleans, San Francisco and Seattle.