No big surprise, but Al Jazeera’s US operations are shutting down sometime in the next few months. The New York Times broke the story today, saying operations will cease before the end of April.
To say that it was an uphill battle for Al Jazeera America is putting it mildly. The station rose out the ashes of the old Current TV, which was designed as a news channel for millennials, who famously don’t actually get their news from television. From there, it never hid its corporate parentage; it’s part of the same Qatar-based organization known for airing video produced by Al-Qaeda in the first few years after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Many people criticized DIRECTV for carrying the channel at all while not carrying the ultra-conservative “The Blaze” channel. For the record, there wasn’t anything sinister about that; The Blaze wanted too much money while DIRECTV was stuck in a multiyear contract with Current TV that carried over to Al Jazeera America. DIRECTV actually stopped paying Al Jazeera for a few months while the two were in litigation, but that all changed last fall when the lawsuit settled and the channel was added in HD.
The Times reports that at its peak, fewer than 30,000 viewers watched the channel, while other sources claim that fewer than 7,000 people in the key 18-34 demographic tuned in last quarter. The channel underwent management changes and faced accusations of racism and anti-Semitism, but the funny thing is that if you watched the channel, they did hold themselves to a very high journalistic standard. Unlike other news channels which favor one political party or the other, Al Jazeera America was uniformly critical of all things American, which made them oddly fact-based when it came to reporting the news. It’s like how you know you can trust TMZ because the only thing they care about is embarrassing famous people, so if they report on politics it’s usually accurate.
Unfortunately Al Jazeera America will never have the opportunity to rise above the anti-American mentality that gave birth to it, and it will go to its grave never having made any real impact on Americans at all. It’s not clear if DIRECTV will carry another channel in its place, but it’s not likely to. Any new channel additions from DIRECTV and AT&T will come when new contracts are signed. There’s plenty of capacity on the satellite so having one more open space won’t make a difference either way.