Who is Al Jazeera America’s Target Audience?

Unfortunately, I have no definitive answer to the question posed in the title of this post. But Richard Sambrook was right. In 2002, he correctly predicted that BBC World News would never be more than a niche player in the world’s most competitive media market. After failing to get signficant cable carriage for Al Jazeera English, Doha has pressed ahead with the launch of an American network. As a media junkie, one thing puzzles me: who is their target audience? The urban professional? Key decision makers? Expats or the general viewing public? If it’s the latter, we’re in big trouble. At this point you may be wondering with what authority do I write on such matters. If I were in your shoes, I’d wonder too. But more on that story later.

There is a perceived notion that Americans by-and-large are not interested in global events since it has no impact on their lives. If it’s not happening in my town, why should I care is the motto. Despite an ever-shifting media landscape and an evolved audience, Sambrook was onto something. He knew that BBC World News would fill a gap in the U.S. market and there would be a sustainable audience to serve. That niche audience has only grown in the last decade, but the majority of viewers are not still not demanding to the type of journalism that serves the public well. The only way to stand out is to be different from the rest of the crowd and not conform to American standards. In fact, the BBC asked its U.S. audience if they wanted an American to present the news. The idea was later rejected through a survey. Another example of being unique and succeeding is CBS This Morning. After floundering for years and enduring multiple makeovers, new leadership at CBS decided to run in the opposite direction as opposed to copying the market leader. The result? The show’s ratings are up and there is a certain amount of prestige associated with the latest re-incarnation. Will the Tiffany network ever have the number one morning show in America. Probably not. But at least that show stands for something. CBS has carved out an identity for their news programming and that is exactly what “AJAM” needs to be successful. If they don’t create an indelible mark, the network will be lost in cable space and viewers will not flip over. Unfortunately, Doha leadership seems more interested in attracting as many eyeballs as possible. Al Jazeera is a great news network for which I have tremendous respect and admiration (despite the tone of my posts), and it has the ability to be greater still. But it appears Doha management does not have the courage to be different and are only emboldened by the conviction of their own vanity.

If I didn’t care about the success for AJAM, I would not be writing these posts. As a former media insider, I started this blog knowing that I could bring a unique voice to the table by commenting on global news organizations operating in this country. I’ve been fortunate to communicate with many news executives. Indeed, I have “friends” in high places. Heck, I’ve even had off-the-record conversations with top executives from Apple and Starbucks. But I digress. I know this website will never generate thousands of hits, but I’m content with my place in the blogosphere. Can’t AJAM be satisfied with the role it should play in the U.S. media market? Stay tuned…

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