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Marketplace Morning Report

Al Jazeera America: What’s the business model?

Ann Heppermann Aug 20, 2013
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Al Jazeera America launches today on various cable networks across the nation. Unlike other cable news shows, the new network has a nearly limitless amount of money, financed by the oil-and-gas rich government of Qatar. This means Al Jazeera America’s executives won’t be losing sleep over ad sales. In fact, they’ve cut the number of ads per hour in half. 

But could swimming in cash be a problem? Kelly McBride, a faculty member at the Poynter Institute, was stumped when asked if there was a downside to being news-rich. “Hmmm, I can’t think of a bad thing,” McBride says. She says Al Jazeera America hopes to distinguish itself with news seen as too expensive for rival networks. Focusing on content could bring Al Jazeera success.

“With all of these resources, they will get a really big scoop, and it will be some great television story that they will have exclusive or first access to. And then people will watch,” says McBride.

Al Jazeera America is available in 48 million of the 100 million TV watching homes. But it still has a brand problem, says media analyst Jeff Jarvis.

“I  have Verizon Fios at home, and I wanted to see whether I was going to be able to see Al Jazeera America on it, but what I [found] was a rather robust discussion of people saying ‘Don’t put that Al Jazeera on my Fios’,” says Jarvis.

The Poynter Institute’s Kelly McBride says if Al Jazeera America delivers on its promises, it can overcome the bias. She will be watching the station today. That is, if she can find it.

“I can’t actually watch it in my marketplace,” she says, ” but I’ll be watching one way or another.”

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