Since its August 20 launch, Al Jazeera America has been an unmitigated failure, unable to attract even a small percentage of the three million Muslims living in America. According to the New York Times, although the news channel is now carried in 44 million American homes, total viewership sits at a statistical zero: 25,000 total viewers. Therefore, it is doubtful that a new deal with Time Warner to add another 10 million households will make any kind of difference.
The distribution deal is the first Al Jazeera America has made since its debut two months ago, replacing Current TV. Ehab Al Shihabi, Al Jazeera America’s interim chief executive, estimated that once the deal was fully in effect, the channel would be available in about 54 million of the 100 million American homes that subscribe to satellite and cable television, up from about 44 million homes now. …
Al Jazeera America’s initial ratings have been almost immeasurably low, with fewer than 25,000 viewers at any time. But Mr. Al Shihabi noted that Fox News Channel and MSNBC started with similarly low ratings in the mid-1990s and said that he cared more about the quality of the programming. “Ratings are critical,” he said. “But what’s more critical for us is our impact on Main Street.”
If you do the math, ten million additional households through this deal means about 6500 more viewers. Time Warner is being cagey, but it sounds as though AJA paid a lot of money to gain access to those 6500 viewers:
Al Jazeera America, like other channel owners, has sought an unspecified per-subscriber fee to be carried. But distributors are generally reluctant to add to their crowded lineups, so channels have occasionally paid to be carried. In this case, Al Jazeera may pay Time Warner Cable for marketing and advertising sales support.
Mr. Al Shihabi declined to say whether Al Jazeera had paid, but called the distribution deal a “win-win proposition.”
AJA’s biggest failure, though, has been its inability to make any kind of impact anywhere, much less Main Street. The Qatar-owned and financed channel has thus far failed to gain any traction in the mainstream media. Not only have AJA’s ratings been invisible, so has its ability to break through with a single news-making story or moment.
AJA is correct that it took FOX and MSNBC time to gain a ratings foothold, but both launched in a completely different media environment, before social media and YouTube. The fact that, after two months, AJA has still failed to create even one moment that has broken through via social media, is nothing short of stunning.
And as low as their ratings were, it was never as though Fox News and MSNBC didn’t exist. I spend 14 hours a day in media, and today’s news about the Time Warner deal is the first time AJA has made news since the announcement of their launch. All the programming broadcast in-between sits in a black hole somewhere.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC