Al-Jazeera America shuttering operations by April, financial reasons cited

Al-Jazeera America shuttering operations by April, financial reasons cited
Facing political hostility and commercial challenges, Qatar-affiliated alternative media outlet Al-Jazeera America said it has failed to take off among viewers despite its award winning journalism and independent voice.
3 min read
14 January, 2016
Employees of AJAM were informed of the decision during an all-hands staff meeting Wednesday [Getty]

Al-Jazeera America, the alternative cable news channel launched by the global Qatar-based media group in 2013, will be shut down April 30, the company said on Wednesday.

An internal memo from director general Mostefa Souag said the decision was "driven by the fact that our business model is simply not sustainable in light of the economic challenges in the US media marketplace."

Souag said the move would be accompanied by an expansion of Al-Jazeera's digital services "to broaden our multi-platform presence in the United States."

The shutdown comes less than three years after a massive investment in a cable news operation aimed at rivaling CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, but which failed to attract significant numbers of viewers.

In mid-2013, the channel went live after hiring some 850 staff and opening 12 bureaus in the United States.

The wind-down of Al-Jazeera America will not affect the group's other global media operations, the memo said.

The decision is no reflection on the work of AJAM staff

Al-Jazeera America chief executive Al Anstey told staff that he recognised that the shutdown "will be a massive disappointment for everyone here who has worked tirelessly for our long-term future," adding that "the decision was no reflection on the work of that staff."

Excerpts of his comments appeared on Al-Jazeera's website.

"Our commitment to great journalism is unrivaled," he said. "We have increasingly set ourselves apart from all the rest. And you are the most talented team any organisation could wish for."

Going digital

Anstey noted that the reorganisation would help Al-Jazeera invest in expanded digital operations.

"As audiences increasingly turn to multiple platforms, including mobile devices, for news and information, this expansion will allow US and non-US consumers alike to access the network's journalism and content wherever and whenever they want," he said.

The move comes amid a growing shift of TV viewers to digital platforms, including news startups like Vice Media, BuzzFeed and the Huffington Post's Huffpost Live.

Al-Jazeera acquired its US cable channel from Current TV, a group that included former US vice president Al Gore and reached some 40 million households.

Al-Jazeera's journalism won a number of awards including commendations from Peabody, Emmy, Gracie, Eppy and DuPont.

The new channel hired high-profile journalists from CNN and other networks and began with 14 hours of daily news programming.

But the channel failed to attract many viewers, crimping its ability to earn advertising revenue.

From the start, Al-Jazeera faced a tough sell to US audiences because of its history in the Middle East. Some conservatives claim it is still anti-Western.

The company separately launched an English-language AJ+ digital network in 2014, aiming to connect with younger viewers who are not watching television or reading newspapers.

While its channel struggled to reach viewers, Al-Jazeera's journalism won a number of awards including commendations from Peabody, Emmy, Gracie, Eppy and DuPont.

Anstey said the channel's quality would not wane in its final months.

"Between now and April, we will continue to show America why AJAM has won respect and the fierce loyalty of so many of our viewers," he said in the memo.

"The foundation of this is integrity, great journalism, impartiality and a commitment to the highest quality story-telling. This will be our lasting impact, and as we produce and showcase the best of our work in the weeks to come this will be clear for everyone to see."