Al Jazeera English to be buried in cable

Two years ago I called Al Jazeera’s live coverage of the revolution in Egypt a “Sputnik moment” for cable in the U.S. Turns out it wasn’t. Not since Al Jazeera agreed to pay half a $billion, plus their live internet stream, to sit at U.S. cable’s table. Losing Al Jazeera English reduces to a single source — France24 — the number of live streams available on the Net from major video news channels. It also terminates years Al Jazeera English’s history on the Net at 5.25 years.

It’s a huge victory for cable and an equally huge loss for the open Net. I dearly hope Al Jazeera feels that loss too. Because what Al Jazeera screws here is a very loyal audience. Just, apparently, not a lucrative one.

In Al Jazeera Embraces Cable TV, Loses Web, The Wall Street Journal explains,

…to keep cable operators happy, Al Jazeera may have to make a difficult bargain: Giving up on the Web.

The Qatar government-backed television news operation, which acquired Current TV for a few hundred million dollars from investors including Al Gore, said Thursday that it will at least temporarily stop streaming online Al Jazeera English, its global English-language news service, in about 90 days. That’s when it plans to replace Current TV’s programming with Al Jazeera English.

Al Jazeera plans later to launch an entirely new channel, Al Jazeera America, that will combine programming from the existing English-language service with new material. The new channel likely won’t be streamed online either, a spokesman said.

And it is unclear whether the original English service will reappear online: the spokesman said Thursday a decision about that was dependent on negotiations with cable operators.

The network’s decision to pull its service off the Web is at the behest of cable and satellite operators. It reflects a broader conflict between pay television and online streaming that other TV channels face. Because cable and satellite operators pay networks to carry their programming, the operators don’t want the programming appearing for free online. Aside from older series available through services like Netflix, most cable programming is available online only to people who subscribe to cable TV.

You won’t find better proof that television is a captive marketplace. You can only watch it in ways The Industry allows, and on devices it provides or approves. (While it’s possible watch TV on computers, smartphones and tablets, you can only do that if you’re already a cable or satellite subscriber. You can’t get it direct. You can’t buy it à la carte, as would be the case if the marketplace were fully open.)

For what it’s worth, I would gladly pay for Al Jazeera English. So would a lot of other people, I’m sure. But the means for that are not in place, except through cable bundles, which everybody other than the cable industry hates.

In the cable industry they call the Net “OTT,” for “over the top.” That’s where Al Jazeera English thrived. But now, for non-cable subscribers, Al Jazeera English is dead and buried UTB — under the bottom.

Adverto in pacem, AJE. For loyal online viewers you were the future. Soon you’ll be the past.

Bonus links:

12 comments

  1. Charles Edward Frith (@charlesfrith)’s avatar

    Al Jazeera is as controlled as CNN and the BBC for propaganda. It’s Qatari owned. Sunni led and currently banging the warmongering drum for carving up Syria which most dumb (yes dumb and uninformed TV viewers) still haven’t figured out is under attack from Al Qaeda types such as Al Nusra. Let me repeat that because it’s the reason Benghazi was predicted by my group and unexpected by TV viewers. The US is in bed with Al Qaeda in Syria and Libya and drone bombing them in Yemen and Pakistan. Until the average viewer figures this out the world will be impossible to disentangle. One can always follow the share value of Halliburton and Academi and Northrop Grumman and Lockheed if my point has been fully grasped. It’s not rocked\t surgery as we say. It really isn’t that hard.

  2. vanderleun’s avatar

    “Because what Al Jazeera screws here is a very loyal audience. Just, apparently, not a lucrative one.”

    It could well be that as far as the web goes if the audience is not lucrative, screw ‘em. Tough love time.

  3. Julian Bond’s avatar

    I wonder if this will be a geo-controlled, region controlled issue as with the BBC iPlayer. So N America gets cable but no web, while the rest of the world gets web but no cable. Kind of, except in places like the UK where Al Jazeera is now on Sky Satellite, Virgin cable, Freeview TV and the web.

    Which all just pushes us towards TOR, proxy services, TPB torrents, youtube captures until they get taken down, megavideo replacements, and on and on. Really, If you won’t give us the content we want in the form we want it, we’ll just get it some other way. Or stop consuming it all together.

    As for the conspiracy/propaganda nuts, are we friends with Qatar these days or not? I’ve lost track.

  4. Jim’s avatar

    What I don`t understand about Aljazeera is, everyone see Aljazeera as the channel for the middle-east and all arab countries. But Aljazeera`s owners are some american businnes guys. So why al these arab believes the information what they get from Aljazeera ?

  5. Doc Searls’s avatar

    The Al Jazeera Network is from the Middle East: headquartered in Doha, Qatar. It is owned by Sheikh Hamad bin Thamer Al Thani, of Qatar. At issue in the U.S. is Al Jazeera English, one of Al Jazeera’s channels.

  6. xavier’s avatar

    Jazeera al is a real media machine which communicates the American politics. This channel is far from being transparent and objective. The communication is politicized.

  7. Andrew Leyden’s avatar

    One other thing that I suspect will be killed (but not totally sure about) is the Al Jazeera Creative Commons repository. They occasionally put up footage they shoot and allow others to mix and edit to make their own stories.

    http://cc.aljazeera.net

    While it is a loss for stream lovers like me, AJE is still inspirational in that you can create a network that has streaming as a large part of the distribution model. AJE and smaller operations like Leo Laporte’s TWIT.TV are good examples of this.

    A long ago dream of mine was to create a truly international news channel–showing the same news coverage all over the world, but in dozens of different languages for different viewers. The same content but for an international audience–not watered down for local tastes (or politics). Was always impractical in the world of satellites and transponder costs and whatnot, but with streaming–maybe?

  8. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Andrew. I didn’t know about http://cc.aljazeera.net, and should have.

    I also love Leo’s model.

    As for your dream, hey, why not?

  9. Jim’s avatar

    Yeah I know the owner of Aljazeera is an arab guy. But the Information that they sent always controlled by america. that is what I mean Aljazeera is owned by a couple of american guys.

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