In 2016, just as Al Jazeera America was shutting down, American media critic Kevin McDonough (Huff Post) wrote: "Al Jazeera America had the ambition, if not the nerve, to think they could ask viewers to start a new viewing routine, precisely at a time when millions of established viewers were abandoning television, and younger consumers were defining themselves as having never paid a cable bill."
Al Jazeera America shut down its broadcast operations after less than three years with reportedly a severely insignificant performance. The news media reported that the channel was losing close to $300M and firing close to 700 employees. All that happened despite the fact they hired some of the best news producers around and had good distribution platforms and deals.
What happened to Al Jazeera and what can other media outlets learn from this experience?
It seems that Al Jazeera America was created with the notion that media effect is created by the mere exposure to the "correct facts." The channel failed because from its very inception it was politically predictable. There is nothing wrong with being a predictable news source if you can maintain financial sustainability.
The ability to predict a media outlet’s position on a certain issue is commonly referred to as "bias." From day one, Al Jazeera America was preaching to its own choir, and apparently, that choir in North America is very small and unsustainable.
On top of that, just as media landscape was about to change forever, Al Jazeera aspired to become CNN of the 1980’s: a prime source for news. They entered an overly saturated field of 24/7 news, with no real competitive edge in their possession (other than what they thought was an advantage: their pro-Arab political stance).
They entered a field that was already occupied by no less than seven full-time dedicated news cable broadcasters: CNN, CNN HLN, FOX News, FOX Business News, Bloomberg TV, MSNBC, CNBC. Not to mention all the news.com sites of CNN Interactive, Politico, Breitbart, Drudge Report, Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, Slate, Newsmax.com and NewsmaxTV.com, MSNBC.com, FOX News.com, CBSNews.com, ABCNews.com, NBCNews.com, Vice.com, Time.com, Newsweek.com, US News & World Report.com, ajplus.com and many more.
In news media, it’s all about the product.
News channels that do well, produce interesting and intriguing content.
For many years, the highest rated show on cable was Comedy Central’s "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart who combined news with comedy. The most celebrated show today, in all of TV, is HBO’s "Last Week Tonight" with John Oliver who combines investigative journalism with comedy.
What’s unique about John Oliver is the fact he can hardly be labeled as "partisan."
He is unpredictably critical and his choice of topics is brilliantly eclectic. Al Jazeera America did not adequately address the changing demographics and viewing habits. Their product was archaic, old-fashioned and not attractive to young viewers. As if this was not enough, Al Jazeera also failed to attract major on-screen talent with massive name recognition.
They did do well, however, with selecting producers.
It seems that the channel’s founders came to America deploying assumptions that worked in other parts of the world but were never tested in the United States. They wrongly assumed that the antiquated "linear media effect theory" (that was already challenged some 80 years ago) is working. They did not understand the basic rule of media: people turn to media not because they are looking to form new opinions but because they are looking to reinforce previous convictions.
Every psychologist would have told them that, but they never asked.
Ambassador Ido Aharoni serves as a global distinguished professor at New York University’s School of International Relations in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Ambassador Aharoni is a 25-year veteran of Israel’s Foreign service, a public diplomacy specialist, founder of the Brand Israel program and a well-known nation branding practitioner. He is the founder of Emerson Rigby Ltd., an Israel-based consultancy firm specializing in non-product branding and positioning. Ambassador Aharoni, who served as Israel's longest serving consul-general in New York and the tristate area for six years, oversaw the operations of Israel’s largest diplomatic mission worldwide. Ambassador Aharoni joined Israel’s Foreign Service in the summer of 1991 and held two other overseas positions in Los Angeles (1994-1998) and in New York (2001-2005). He is a graduate of Tel Aviv University (Film, TV, Sociology and Social Anthropology) and Emerson College (Master’s in Mass Communications and Media Studies). At the Hebrew University in Jerusalem he attended the special Foreign Service program in Government and Diplomacy. To reach more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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