Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Al Jazeera English: Good Business or Real Strategic Communications

The New York Times Financial Section ran a 19 May story “Al Jazeera English Tries to Extend Its Reach to the US” (

Tony Burman the new Managing Director did his best to paint a picture of a media start up seeking to serve the US market by providing credible journalism and a BBC like perspective on the news.

Al Jazeera English (AJE) has found breaking into the potentially lucrative US TV market difficult. Limiting factors on their success have been the taint of their “Arabic sibling” and the crowded and competitive nature of cable systems according to the article. Interestingly no mention was made of satellite TV networks at all.

You can watch AJE in the USA on: GlobeCast World TV; Buckeye Cable, Ohio; Washington Cable (Washington, DC); Islamicity (Broadband); and JumpTV (Broadband). (source:

AJE announced distribution agreements in Portugal, Ukraine, and Vietnam – not exactly your mainstream TV markets. Most TV stations that I’m familiar with are after one thing: advertising dollars. Their goal is to broadcast shows that attract desirable demographics to attract the most lucrative advertisers. The only exception to this is the Public Broadcasting System (PBS).

So what is AJE after? What are its strategic goals? I’m inclined to accept the premise that they are trying to attract an English speaking audience or perhaps an Arabic one that is trying to learn how to speak English. Say what they will, their center of gravity remains their Arabic Big Brother and their Qatar based ownership’s strategic interests are most likely to be served by broadening their exposure to audiences that are or should be influenced by the editorial strain that has marked AJ since its inception.

Critics of AJE have indicated that their home office in Doha, Qatar was becoming more directive in terms of coverage rather than news hubs in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), London or DC. Departures of Western Journalists to include law suits by some, are characterized as normal growing pains or indicative of the climate the “Home Office” establishes depending on your point of view.

My feeling is that AJE is an extension of the corporate family and their ultimate, buy perhaps not their immediate mission, is to expand the reach of the core messaging and perspectives advocated by AJ ownership. The small distribution agreements combined with what appears to be a well funded, yet long term, patient approach to expansion shows a well thought out strategic communications direction in my opinion. But as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.

The cartoons above came from the AJE website ( today, I’ll leave it to you to decided if this is good, BBC like credible journalism, or intelligence indicators of the true nature of their strategic direction.

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