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Al Jazeera America debut approaches, with fewer commercials

Media

Al Jazeera America debut approaches, with fewer commercials

By Jeanine Poggi

Al Jazeera America will have fewer commercials than other cable TV networks when it begins transmitting on Tuesday.

The cable news network will air just six minutes of commercials per hour, compared with about 15 minutes to 17 minutes on other news channels, CEO Ehab Al Shihabi said during a call with press on Thursday. He said the channel has sponsors but declined to identify them.

Al Shihabi also said the primary goal for Al Jazeera America was not driving profits but delivering unbiased, fact-based news, with “less yelling and fewer celebrity sightings.”

The remarks seemed partly an attempt to set expectations for the early going. Al Jazeera America may not want to clutter the network with lots of commercials, but advertiser demand for whatever time it offers may be the bigger question.

There’s still a lingered perception among American viewers that the network’s parent sympathized with extremists in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks. Al-Jazeera has been criticized in the US, for example, for airing videos and messages from al Qaeda members.

Al Jazeera English, an English-language version of the flagship channel, was introduced in 2006 but has struggled to get distribution and ended up as primarily a web service.

The online stream of Al Jazeera English will be removed when Al Jazeera America premieres on Aug. 20, Al Shibabi said.

While Al Shihabi acknowledged that the stigma around the parent company was initially a challenge, he said that advertisers have been impressed as Al Jazeera America presented its vision and values

“We are not concerned anymore,” he says.

Since Qatar-based Al Jazeera bought Al Gore’s Current TV for $500 million, the company has opened 12 US bureaus for Al Jazeera America and studios in New York City and Washington, DC. A who’s who of journalists has signed on, including former NBC News anchor John Seigenthaler and CNN alums Soledad O’Brien, Joie Chen and Ali Velshi.

Kate O’Brien, who spent three decades at ABC News in senior production roles, is Al Jazeera America’s president.

At its debut, Al Jazeera America will be in close to 50 million homes. Conversations continue with Time Warner Cable, which dropped the network after Current was sold.

Al Jazeera America’s prime time block will include “Nightly News” with John Seigenthaler; “America Tonight,” a current affairs magazine show hosted by Joie Chen; and “Consider This,” a talk show with Antonio Mora.

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