Time Warner Cable (TWC) has just dropped another low rated channel—this time, it is Al Gore’s Current TV, which just got sold to Al Jazeera, an independent satellite news channel commended for its exceptional news coverage of the 2011 Egyptian protests.
Al Jazeera is planning to enter the U.S. cable market, which was one of the reasons they acquired the struggling Current TV network. In addition, plans to create a news based network called Al Jazeera America are still in the works, which should be available to 40 million households nationwide. But with TWC’s decision to drop Current TV, that will be 12 million less households available—which is a setback for Al Jazeera’s expansion plans.
Joel Hyatt, Current TV’s co-founder, informed the network staff through a memo that the cable giant “did not consent to the sale to Al Jazeera…Consequently, Current will no longer be carried on TWC. This is unfortunate, but I am confident that Al Jazeera America will earn significant additional carriage in the months and years ahead.”
A TWC spokesman released a simple statement saying: “our agreement with Current will be terminated and we will no longer be carrying the channel.”
However, some media critics charged the cable MSO of playing politics. Dan Gilmore, tech writer and founding director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University, tweeted: “Time-Warner cable shows abject political and journalistic cowardice by dropping Current because of Al Jazeera deal.”
However, TWC stated that “we do have an agreement with [Al Jazeera English], though we have no plans to launch it at this time.” Also, the cable company has been sending warnings about dropping low rated networks, having dropped Ovation just a few days ago.
Still, it’s not all bad news for Al Jazeera. Other cable and satellite providers have not commented on the deal, and for now, Current TV’s carriage deals will still be in effect with DirecTV, Dish Network, Verizon FiOS, Comcast, AT&T U-verse, and more.
The Al Jazeera English Network has been praised for their coverage of the Arab Spring Protests in 2011, but despite the acclaim, US pay TV companies have been reluctant to carry the channel due to charges of alleged Anti-American bias during the George Bush presidency. The Bush Administration opposed the network’s coverage of the Iraq War and its decision to broadcast al Qaeda tapes, which of course made the network politically unviable for pay TV companies looking to stay neutral with their network carriage deals.
So far, only the RISE Network in New York City carries Al Jazeera English for American viewers. Al Anstey, managing director of Al Jazeera English, stated: “in the United States of America, there were myths and misconceptions that needed to be tackled about what Al Jazeera stood for and what Al Jazeera English stood for and stands for.”
Fortunately, Anstey added, the network was making great inroads and is “getting known, building the reputation, establishing ourselves for the unique content that we put out there … By doing that, we obviously addressed many of those misconceptions that existed in the past.”
Americans make up 40% of the streaming audience for Al Jazeera English, which indicates a strong demand for the network’s programs.
“U.S. viewers have clearly demonstrated that they like the way Al Jazeera provides compelling, in-depth news to audiences across the world,” stated Al Jazeera’s director general, Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani. “Everyone at Al Jazeera takes great pride in the independence, impartiality, professionalism and courage of our journalism. I look forward to bringing these standards to our new American audiences and working with our new colleagues at Current.”
The new Al Jazeera America Network will be headquartered in New York City, which is home to one of the largest populations of Middle Eastern and Arab Americans in the nation. Once the network launches, perhaps things will thaw out and the network can gain more carriage agreements down the road.