Al Jazeera has announced that its American channel, Al Jazeera America, will shut down after roughly two-and-a-half years. The channel and website will both go dark by April 30. The move could result in 700 staffers losing their jobs. However, it comes as Al Jazeera Media Group, the parent company, is doubling-down on US expansion.
Al Jazeera’s documentary unit, which recently produced a documentary linking Peyton Manning to PEDs, and AJ+, a social news network, are unaffected about the announcement.
Al Jazeera has long struggled in the ratings and failed to break into a largely established cable news market of Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, and HLN. Al Jazeera’s ratings were lower than its predecessor, Current TV, and most of the programs “scratched.” A scratch is when viewership is so low that Nielsen cannot accurately measure the audience. Low viewership translated into low advertising revenues. AJAM CEO Al Anstey said that the decision came with the realization “that our business model is simply not sustainable.”
Another global economic factor was at play though. Oil prices have plunged, leading to less revenue for countries that depend on oil output. Al Jazeera is funded by Qatar, an oil-rich country. The fall in oil prices led to belt-tightening at Al Jazeera Media Group and the company said that lay-offs could be occurring. It seems that the majority of cuts have come from AJAM’s closure, rather than being spread around the media group.
Some have wondered why the channel was shutting down, especially given that Al Jazeera has another English-speaking channel, Al Jazeera English. AJAM would regularly simulcast Al Jazeera English.
Al Jazeera America started with sky-high hopes. Media analysts saw it as the savior of American television news which was increasingly dominated by soft news and talking heads. However, the network also struggled with branding issues going back to the Bush Administration. Al Jazeera would show videos from Osama bin Laden, leading to President Bush linking it with the terrorist. That connection would persevere and challenge AJAM when it launched.
There is also the question of whether the personalities will end up. Many, like Ali Velshi, left comfortable positions in order to join the network. Ali Velshi had an interesting time at the network with an executive blowing up at him at one point and saying that Velshi was “finished here.” Some have reported that Velshi has been looking to return to CNN and the network publicly stated that Velshi was leaving on good terms. An AJAM spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment regarding personalities’ contracts.
Al Jazeera America also had trouble inside of the newsroom, including allegations of anti-Semitism. A former employee had sued AJAM over anti-Semitism for five million dollars.