Behind the AJE/Current Deal

It seems fitting to start the new year with a big bang: Al-Jazeera English has bought Current TV for a rumored $500 million. The story, first broken by The New-York Times, is of extreme importance because the Doha-based network will gain access to 40 million households. AJE had a problem gaining U.S. distribution and we correctly predicted it would buy shares within a media organization or acquire a channel. You have to give credit to a network that thought outside the box for a deal like this to occur, but there are some important items to think about.

1. Brand Recognition: Al-Jazeera English often gets mixed up with Al-Jazeera Arabic. While Hillary Clinton’s comments about the network got many to rethink their viewpoints, the network has a long way to go.

2. Revolving Door: It has become apparent that AJE has a problem retaining key talent. In 2011, Ayman Mohyeldin defected to NBC. Many who worked in the Washington bureau and presented for The Stream left to pursue other opportunities.

3. Imbalanced Reporting: The network had a great documentary on life within Baltimore’s inner city that dealt with drugs, crime, and death. But is the network trying to suggest that life is bleak for all African-Americans in America? It’s noteworthy as the BBC suffered from this sort of imbalanced reporting on life in the U.S. Rome Hartman, who served as an Executive Producer on BBC World News America, addressed this issue in an open forum. Fast-forward to 18:50 and you’ll get a sense of how the British broadcaster didn’t always get the story right in the past.

The Stream Must Go On With…

If you are not a regular viewer of The Stream, Al Jazeera’s social media tv show based in D.C., you would be forgiven for not noticing the string of talent departures over the last few months. A relaunch is forthcoming, but without some of the people who have made it a success. The show may not be a ratings juggernaut, but there is value to what these folks have done and will continue to do. I am confident that an appropriate host will be found to carry the show forward.

It is why I am throwing my clout (if I have any) behind Al Jazeera’s very own Adrian Finighan. I came across Adrian when he was a presenter on BBC World while I was wrapping up my shenanigans in high school during the dinosaur era. At the time, our family room television used to be tuned in to BBC News every evening. The more I watched Adrian, the more I grew to appreciate his on-air professionalism and light-hearted moments. I emphasize the latter because most of the BBC presenters appeared dull and serious. Not Adrian. He gave the channel a much-needed energy boost and it didn’t hurt that he was considerably younger compared to some of his esteemed colleagues. When Mishal Husain moved to Washington to front the BBC’s bulletins aimed at the U.S, he supported her as the main London anchor. Many have fond memories of that pairing. Fellow classmates at university who knew of them called Adrian and Mishal the “dream team.” As lame as it may sound, it partly served as a source of inspiration when it came to deciding my future career. I had the honor of interviewing him for TV Newser when he joined CNN and there was no sense of arrogance in our conversation. There should be no doubt that having an amiable personality is an important variable in selecting a presenter. That is especially true for The Stream.

Time to Move the Orange Couch

The Stream, Al-Jazeera’s interactive news and social media programme, will sport a new on-air look in the next few weeks. We can expect – at the least – to see on-air talent seated closely together and eradicating any sense of disjointedness. What appears to be a mini-relaunch will not only enhance the show, but make it more visually appealing.

The Stream is an innovative show to be watched. It offers a voice to an ever-growing online audience that has instant say in the show’s output – making the process of shaping the news agenda seem refreshingly democratic. You should equate The Stream with Helios. It can illuminate our minds and shine the light on all those un-told stories filled with moral and social injustice. But it has the ability to highlight all those common stories that are about our humanity and that bind us together.

BBC and AJE Switch into High Gear for U.S. Audience

Zeinab Badawi is a BBC World News anchor

The BBC has gained a bigger foothold in the U.S. market after landing a deal with communications giant Comcast. The arrangement allows for BBC World News to be seen in up to 15 million homes by the end of 2012. When the “Beeb” first secured 24-hour carriage on Cablevision in 2006, the corporation launched a morning news show called World News Today (later rebranded as GMT) aimed at the American audience.  BBC World News America followed in late 2007.

But in announcing the deal with Comcast, we could not find any evidence to suggest more programming would be launched for us Yanks. We reached out to the BBC for clarification. Below is our Q’s & A’s.

1. Will more programming be launched at the U.S. in light of the arrangement with Comcast?

A BBC spokesperson said: “We believe the strength and attraction of the offer from BBC World News is its international journalism from around the world. That will continue to be our main focus and we don’t envisage major changes to the schedule.”

2. With the extended reach into more homes be supported by a marketing push?

A BBC spokesperson said: “We will be marketing our services on TV and online across the regions and cities that will be able access the channel through Comcast’s Xfinity TV. Whilst it’s important we raise awareness of the availability of channel, we know the hunger from US audiences for smart international news is strong.

But another competitor has already modified its schedule in preparation of the 2012 U.S. elections. Al-Jazeera English is broadcasting its flagship discussion show Inside Story from Washington. Episodes will also cover stories of importance in North and South America.

Photography: Courtesy of BBC

International News is Trendy

Who would have ever thought we would see the day when global news became fashionable? In the United States? You must be joking. Ah, but it has. Al-Jazeera English, much-praised for its coverage in Egypt, is in heavy demand from American viewers seeking an international perspective on a global news. Countless articles – and I mean countless, have been written covering the rise of the fledgling network and why it is still struggling to be carried by major cable operators in this country. According to media reports, AJE management is set to meet with Comcast at the end of this month. But realizing an opportunity is not to be wasted, the BBC announced it would move its flagship U.S. news program BBC World News America from BBC America to the BBC World News channel starting March 28. The move is an attempt to bolster the profile of the news channel in the U.S.A which is distributed in six million homes on a 24-hour basis. As the New-York Times pointed out, cable operators are reluctant to carry international news channels. And while it maybe hard to quantify or translate the figures AJE received though online viewership into Nielsen ratings, one thing is certain; international news is trendy.

New Kid on the Block

Has Al-Jazeera English presenter Imran Garda moved to Washington? Apparently. According to his official biography, he is now listed as a U.S. anchor and presents from Washington “where he is now based.” A bit of irony here; Garda is 28 years old and is considered one of the youngest news anchors in the world. Mishal Husain of the BBC moved to Washington when she was 29 and was an instant hit with viewers. Will Garda follow in Husain’s footsteps? Time will tell, but we think he will.

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12/16/2011 Update: Mr. Garda is currently with the programmes department at AJE. He can be seen presenting The Stream.

Photography: Courtesy of Mohamed Nanabhay via Creative Commons

Courtesy of BBC World News

Daljit Dhaliwal on…Al-Jazeera English

Former Worldfocus/CNN International/ITN news anchor Daljit Dhaliwal hit the broadcasting airwaves on Al-Jazeera English today. We spotted her at 2 PM EST on the Newshour show. Newshour provides an hour of world news hosted from three of Al Jazeera’s four broadcast centres, linked together live. In this case, it was Darren Jordan in Doha, Julie McDonald in London, and Daljit Dhaliwal anchoring in Washington.

Daljit has known to freelance since her days at CNNi ended. She recently served as anchor of Worldfocus until the show was cancelled due to a lack of funding. As for AJE, it’s unclear whether this is a one-time gig, but we’re glad she’s back on-air.

Update 8/13/2010: Contacted her agency HD Reps. Officially, no comment could be made. Personally, I would expect her to stay on for quite some time. Two Washington anchors have moved; Ghidha Fakhry to Doha and Rob Reynolds to Los-Angeles causing a “gap” in the schedule.

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The Rundown…

Culture: DC is fifth on the “bohemian index”, a list of uber-creative cities. Richard Florida, author of The Creative Class and founder of the Creative Class Group, believes San-Antonio is the most non-bohemian city.

More Culture: Actor Laurence Fishburne brings “Thurgood”  to life.

Transport: Zipcar plans to go public as a way to pay down its debt.

Design: Massimo Vignelli, who designed the original signs on the Metro system, thinks they have gotten too cluttered.

Media: Tony Burman, head of Al Jazeera-English, claims BBC offers a “British perspective of the world.” Interesting, but the BBC is the single most quoted news source by US bloggers, says a Pew report.

Funny and Random: The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, also known as the Deficit Commission, has run out of money.

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