As of 12:01 A.M. this morning, Time Warner Cable customers in New York City have a new news channel to choose from: Al Jazeera English.
The Qatar-based news network has finally made its entry into the tight cable and satellite space here in the U.S. The network has been a leader in international news for years and was more and more visible as uprisings swept through the Middle East this year. Al Jazeera English’s coverage of the Arab Spring has been one of the most comprehensive and everyone from wonks to diplomats including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have taken note.
Today in his New York Times’ piece, Media reporter Brian Stelter writes:
…six months after widespread protests erupted in the Middle East, the Qatar-based Al Jazeera has not gained distribution on any major cable or satellite systems in the United States. The channel’s supporters say they feel it has been blacklisted; the distributors say they have to contend with limited channel space.
Undeterred, Al Jazeera English executives say they are making headway. On Monday, the channel will be carried in New York City for the first time, though only by subletting space from a channel owner. The channel has a foothold in Washington through a similar arrangement.
Without commenting directly on conversations with distributors, Mr. Anstey indicated that Al Jazeera was not asking for the sort of per-subscriber fee that most channels depend on. “Revenue is not our priority. It’s being seen,” he said. Al Jazeera does not necessarily need the fees, since it receives funds from the finance ministry of Qatar, though it says it is not influenced by the Qatari government.
The channel Al Jazeera English is subletting is RISE, a cable channel that had previously been a Spanish-language network.
In an interview with The Huffington Post, Al Anstey, managing director of Al Jazeera English, said that the company’s website receives more traffic from New York City than anywhere else in the U.S., part of the reason why the company chose this market to expand:
“New York is a very important city. It’s looking at all directions on the globe and all directions are looking back at New York City. So it’s a truly global city. It’s got a very outward looking, diverse, intelligent audience — obviously an influential audience in some quarters as well. So it’s a key part of our strategy”
Amjad Atallah, Al Jazeera English’s new bureau chief for the Americas told The New York Times:
“I think every American should have the right to watch Al Jazeera English in any medium they want. As an American, what grates is that I’m prevented from watching something.”
For foreign affairs junkies to any one looking to be informed today is a good one. We’ll be watching to see if Al Jazeera English will be introduced to other markets across the U.S.