BBC Surrenders U.S. Market to Al Jazeera

It seems fitting to write this post as the BBC’s new Washington bureau chief arrives in town as there are a few things that Paul Danahar needs to know about his U.S. operations. In 2002, Richard Sambrook gave a speech stating that the BBC surrendered the 24-hr t.v. news market to CNN International during the early 90’s. Now, the Beeb is about to hand victory to Al Jazeera on a silver platter. As the Doha-based broadcaster beefs up operations to launch Al Jazeera America, the BBC has sat idle and failed to improve the programming intended for this market. While the Beeb can claim that BBC World News is seen in 27 million U.S. homes, there is no data illustrating how many people watch the channel on a regular basis. Katty Kay’s show, with its confusing and unoriginal name, goes out a time when most people are out on the road or are at work. But if viewers tuned in, what would they find? Unfortunately, a very straight-forward and sometimes boring newscast that is not dynamic enough against other shows on the channel such as Global. Maybe the folks in D.C. need a bigger set or bureau or both. It is also disappointing that Dani Sinha has not been offered the role of substitute anchor on World News America. I’ve seen too many of Kay’s colleagues present the show when she is unavailable and this aspect of presentation is rather confusing. Once programming wraps up for the Asian markets, it’s back to North America. Between the hours of 8 and 11 pm ET, viewers on BBC World News and PBS are treated to the amiable Mike Embley who deserves more credit for his work on the channel. Unfortunately, Mr. Embley is based in London and I have not heard of any plans to have him based in D.C. Despite internal issues and many flaws, Al Jazeera America is serious about this market and is about to shake-up the media in this country. A former BBC anchor was right: Al Jazeera has “run rings” around the corporation. With all my sincerity, best of luck “AJAM!”

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