Holiday Rundown: Shawafel, Burberry, and More

We’ve been off the grid at D.C. Internationalist. But here is a rundown of the most recent and notable news items.

Travel: British Airways will feature the A380 on flight 216/217 to Dulles next September.

Media: Al Jazeera America is interested in prestige than profit.

Food: Despite the fast-casual craze in D.C., Ping Pong Dim Sum and Yo!Sushi are currently not in expansion mode.

More Food: Per the Shawafel social media guru, the fast-casual Lebanese joint plans to setup shop in the Courthouse area. More on this as we get it.

Update: Shawafel intends to open at 1919 Wilson Blvd in the spring.

Retail: Conneticut Avenue is losing a flagship retailer [Burberry] to CityCenter. Does the strip have any chance of attracting high-end retailers?  Prada and Saint Laurent have signed leases at Tysons Galleria making Conneticut Avenue seem like an after-thought.

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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…

Hallelujah! AJAM Appoints Key Leaders

The waiting game is over! Al Jazeera has made an announcement on who will take charge of the American network. Kate O’Brian of ABC News will lead Al Jazeera America while veterans from CNN and MSNBC fill other management roles. The news is surprising as O”Brian was never bracketed with the likes of Jon Klein, David Westin or Mark Whitaker. Reports of David Shuster joining the network also surfaced yesterday. He’s probably being Al Jazeerized at this very moment. 

What is still a matter of concern is the programming on the channel….or lack of. Thus far, all we seem to hear about is Ali Velshi’s new business show, documentaries by Soledad O’Brien, and America Tonight. Doesn’t AJAM have 24 hours of air-time to fill? Do the business folks not want to sell ads in advance? If I worked for a media company and was interested in buying air-time on the network, I would be at a loss as I do not know where to spend my funds. Media reports suggest the network will have the lowest time allocated for commercial breaks. Is this due to the fact that ad-breaks have not been sold? Or will viewers be subjected to endless promos produced by the network itself? Hmmm, I wonder. 
The only words I can offer to senior management who work there is this: get your sh*t together, hire a reputable HR firm so you can sort of your talent and trivial HR issues and stop thinking you can throw money at every problem that comes your way. Otherwise, you’ll all find yourself on a plane back to Doha with your tails between your legs. Let me know if you plan on ordering the limo just in case this happens. 

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!”

The Rundown: Ali Velshi, Etihad and More…


Media: Al Jazeera America has poached CNN’s Ali Velshi. His last day with CNN/CNNi was Friday. Velshi may work with Kamahl Santamaria who presents “Counting the Cost” on Al Jazeera English. Santamaria tells DC Internationalist: “AJAM will be a separate channel, but we will of course share resources. Give it time and we’ll see :)”

Media: Yalda Hakim has begun anchoring newscasts for BBC World News.

Travel: Etihad Airways added non-stop flights from Abu Dhabi to Dulles to its schedule last weekend. The airline also unveiled a lavish lounge. The press release states the following: “Located next to the airline’s departure gate in Terminal A, the lounge provides premium passengers with unfettered and convenient direct access to the aircraft without having to go through a traditional departure gate.” Nice!

Food: Le Pain Quotidien is on an expansion craze in the D.C. area. Chevy Chase and Union Station will soon get the Belgian cafe experience.

Wanted: Star Power for Al Jazeera America

There has been gossip surrounding a union between Al Jazeera America and Ann Curry. She would get the opportunity to tackle serious issues facing this country and Al Jazeera would have gained a huge star. It needs a few of those if the network is to be taken seriously at the table. Spending a speculated $500 million bought the airwaves, but star power is essential and a testament to their credibility issue. A few other choices including American-born Tony Harris who is already familiar with U.S. viewers. He is currently based with the network in Doha. Adrian Finighan would also be good choice as he was a hit with viewers on his BBC/PBS broadcasts. The list of potential candidates is endless. But the network does have the opportunity to cultivate some fresh faces for its Californian operations. It would be interesting to see who they pick for positions based in Culver City and San-Francisco.

What do you think?