National advertisers shun Al Jazeera America for some strange reason

Bin Laden

When the new Al Jazeera America cable channel went live, CEO Ehab Al Shihabi said he didn’t want to clutter up its news content with advertising.

Looks like he’s getting his wish, and then some.

“In its first days on the air, Al Jazeera America’s short commercial window has been dominated by promotions for the network itself and some direct-response ads. There are only a few national brands,” Advertising Age reported August 23.

While cable news networks generally reserve 15 minutes an hour for commercials, Al Jazeera America’s scheduling only six. And even then, they’re having a hard time filling them.

An advertising hejira

Just as Muhammad fled from Mecca to Medina in 622, national television brands are running, not walking, to other channels.

Vonage, for example, advertised there briefly, but then pulled out. “Given the newness of the network and concerns around the historical content of programming outside of the U.S., Vonage has decided to suspend advertising on Al Jazeera America for the foreseeable future,” the company said in a statement.

In fact, notes Ad Age,

During the 3 p.m. hour Thursday, ads for ThermoSpas hot tubs, the Christopher Reeve Foundation and Gillette’s Fusion ProGlide razors and shave gel were placed between promos for Al Jazeera America programming.

The Nation has also bought time to run direct-response advertising, according to an Al Jazeera America spokeswoman…

“Our clients are considering it, but none are buying yet,” one media buyer said. “Many clients are not aware of what kind of news organization it is internationally, so right now it is about education.”

Or, they may be all too aware and are reacting accordingly.

Reduced exposure

One factor totally unrelated to “what kind of news organization [Al Jazeera] is internationally” is that its coverage is limited to some 45 million homes – fewer than half the estimated 100 million wired and satellite homes in the US.

Neither Time Warner Cable, Cablevision nor AT&T carries Al Jazeera America. AT&T’s decision, announced the day before the channel’s premiere, to drop it from U-Verse due to contractual disputes, alone cost Al Jazeera 5 million potential viewers. (AJA is suing.)

Hype doesn’t help

Looking at coverage by other media, it appears that the “education” that that media buyer was talking about is already under way.

Perhaps in exchange for the $1 million to $5 million Al Jazeera gave to the Clinton Foundation as of 2008, Hillary Clinton appeared in an hour-long promo for the network, endorsing it as “real news” and “real effective.”

Other national media have been equally effusive.

The headlines this week read like Al-Jazeera press releases: “Al Jazeera America Promises a More Sober Look at the News” (New York Times); “Al Jazeera Promises Meatier News” (Associated Press). “To be sure, the network has a handsome look,” The Washington Post critiqued.

NPR is about as close as we get to hard-hitting on the network’s launch, which is already a bad sign. “Critics say Al-Jazeera will have trouble shaking its image in the U.S. at least, as a news source with terrorist ties,” Celeste Headlee said by way of introducing Brian Stelter, the media reporter for The New York Times…

Of course, if terrorism didn’t come up in the NPR interview, the “diversity” of the on-air talent did. Stelter said, “One of the (Al-Jazeera America) primetime anchors, Joie Chen, said to me when I interviewed her last week, ‘I would challenge you to find any television news operation that’s more diverse than we are.'”

Of course, diversity of race, gender and other politically correct criteria is one thing. Diversity of thought and opinion, which a religion that imprisons poets and bloggers (or worse) isn’t exactly famous for, is quite another.

In any event, advertisers are still staying away at this point.

So it’s a good thing for AJA that it’s bankrolled by the deep pockets of the Emirate of Qatar. Because it could be a long, long time before ad revenues make up for the half-billion dollars it forked over to Al Gore for his largely unwatched Current cable network.

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