x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Al Jazeera English confident of pan-US service

As Al Jazeera English hits TV screens in New York, the Qatar-owned channel says it is in distribution talks with major operators across the US.

Al Jazeera English is in distribution talks with major TV operators across the US as it looks to meet greater demand for news about the Middle East after the Arab Spring.

The news station, based in Qatar, has for years been campaigning for wider distribution in the US, but has met with political obstructions due to perceptions about its Arabic-language sister channel.

But on Monday the English-language channel hit the airwaves in New York City - and said it was engaged in talks with numerous cable and satellite broadcasters over distribution in other parts of the US.

"We're in meetings with all the key cable and satellite operators," said Al Anstey, the managing director of Al Jazeera English.

Mr Anstey, who was in New York, said he was confident Al Jazeera English would be successful in securing wider distribution.

"It is a question of when, not if," he said. "We're making progress with some of the key players." Mr Anstey declined to name which carriers Al Jazeera was in negotiations with.

Al Jazeera English said on Monday it was available for the first time to cable-TV viewers in New York, through its launch on a channel carried by Time Warner Cable.

It will shortly launch on an additional broadcast carried by Verizon FiOS, bringing the total number of New York households that can access the channel to 2 million.

The broadcast deal was made between Al Jazeera and the RISE channel, which is operated by the privately-owned Regional News Network, based in New York.

Al Jazeera already attracts 500,000 New Yorkers as "regular visitors" to its website - and is launching on cable TV in response to that, Mr Anstey said.

"This launch has been fuelled by viewer demand. We are already part of the media landscape here, with one in 10 people having got information on events in America and the world from our website this year alone. We get more web traffic from New York than any other city on earth," he said.

Al Jazeera English is already on air in Washington, and select news bulletins are broadcast in some other parts of the US and in Latin America and Canada.

However, the channel had faced difficulty gaining distribution on major TV platforms in the US.

It said last year the Al Jazeera network - which also operates an Arabic-language channel - had faced "very aggressive hostility" from the Bush administration, blaming that for the reluctance of cable and satellite companies to carry the English-language channel. Some claimed the Al Jazeera Arabic channel was a platform for anti-American propaganda.

However, Mr Anstey said there had been a "sea change" in the attitude to Al Jazeera among senior political figures in the US.

Earlier this year the US secretary of state Hillary Clinton lauded the channel, saying that "viewership of Al Jazeera is going up in the United States because it's real news".

In May, senator John McCain praised Al Jazeera's role in the Arab Spring uprisings, saying he was "very proud of the role that Al Jazeera has played".

Mr Anstey said the Arab Spring has "certainly brought new viewers to our screens". Al Jazeera English has 70 bureaus around the world, and Mr Anstey said it was adding additional newsgathering offices in North America, Africa, Latin America and South Korea. Five additional bureaus will open "in the coming months", he said.

Al Jazeera, which is heavily subsidised by the Qatar government, said it would not be launching a dedicated advertising sales operation in the US.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg and Saudi Arabia's Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud are reported to be in talks over an Arabic-language business news channel.

Plans for the launch of the channel are set to be announced imminently, said a person with knowledge of the situationwho wished to remain anonymous.

bflanagan@thenational.ae