By The Numbers

Al Jazeera America’s CEO: U.S. will accept channel

Kai Ryssdal Aug 20, 2013

Al Jazeera America premiered to a limited U.S. audience on Tuesday, after it replaced Current TV in the channel line-up of many U.S. cable providers.

Only five of the country’s biggest cable operators carried Current, and one of them — AT&T U-Verse — dropped the channel on Monday before the switch. Al Jazeera America has hired hundreds of U.S.-based journalists and TV production staff, and has been very open about its hopes to win over a skeptical U.S. public.

In a wide-ranging interview with Marketplace’s Kai Ryssdal at the Aspen Ideas Festival earlier this year, the channel’s interim CEO, Ehab Al Shihabi, said he believed that the channel’s journalistic offerings would be something the American public will watch — and pay for.

“I am not entering the landscape of opinionated news. I am not entering the landscape of the infotainment,” he said. “I’m entering a landscape which, in my opinion, doesn’t exist or it exists but not in the level that the American audience deserve. So the idea here is we are entering for a market that consider underserved.”

Al Shihabi also talked about American’s knee-jerk reaction to the cable channel’s name — and the popularity and demand of another all-news channel.

“I think I’m very confident that Al Jazeera name — the time they watch Al Jazeera, the time they taste Al Jazeera America, they will accept it,” he says, “and they will become loyalists and followers.”

He says, “Our experience since 2006 with Al Jazeera English indicated there is a space and there is a huge demand for that type of news.”

The full interview is online in video form and transcribed.

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