Cord cutters won’t be able to tune into Al Jazeera America, the new cable news network that was announced Wednesday in conjunction with the news that Al Jazeera has purchased Al Gore’s Current.tv. At least not live, anyway: An Al Jazeera America spokesperson confirmed Thursday that the network won’t be live streaming its programming online.
This news will likely come as a disappointment to Internet-savvy news junkies, and it’s a departure from Al Jazeera’s current distribution model. Shunned by big cable service providers, Al Jazeera has long streamed its English-language programming live through sites like YouTube as well as dedicated apps for mobile and connected devices.
However, through the acquisition of Current.tv, Al Jazeera is gaining cable distribution to some 40 million households through service providers like Comcast, DirecTV, Dish, Verizon FIOS and AT&T Uverse. Only Time Warner Cable decided to ditch the channel, something that was possible through an exit clause in the event of an ownership change.
And with new carriers, there are new responsibilities. Cable TV providers don’t like to compete with free online distribution, and instead want content to be made available only to authenticated subscribers. It’s too early to tell whether Al Jazeera America will go down that route, but it’s certainly a possibility, as Peter Kafka mused today.
Still, there is good news for cord cutters: Al Jazeera will continue to operate its Al Jazeera English channel as a separate entity to target English-language audiences around the world. And Al Jazeera English will continue to stream online, at least for the time being. Plus, with Al Jazeera staffing up in the U.S., it’s likely that there is going to be more coverage of U.S. news events on Al Jazeera English as well.
Now, there may be some uncertainty during the transition period. Current.tv is supposed to wind down its own programming over the next three months. At that point, it is going to be replaced by an Al Jazeera English feed until Al Jazeera America is fully operational and ready to launch in a few months. A spokesperson couldn’t rule out that during that transition, the Al Jazeera English live stream could become unavailable to U.S. audiences.
But even without a dedicated Al Jazeera America live stream, there is hope that the network is going to offer online audiences more than competitors like CNN, Fox News and MSNBC have been willing to do. In the past few years, Al Jazeera English has embraced a wide range of online tools and platforms, ranging from crowdsourced video subtitles to Reddit chats to social media in crisis hotspots. it’s unlikely that the network is going to ditch these efforts once it launches in the U.S. in honest later this year.
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