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Why Al-Jazeera Owns Internet TV’s Egypt Coverage

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Tanks were greeted by protesters, police vehicles went up in flames and looters started to empty the building of the ruling party NDP in Cairo late Friday: These and more astonishing images of a regime on the verge of collapse have been broadcast live online by Al-Jazeera, and a huge number of Internet users worldwide have been flocking to Al-Jazeera’s streams to get a glimpse at the events unfolding.

The UK’s, which features both live Al-Jazeera Arabic TV programming as well as the live Al-Jazeera English TV feed, has been overwhelmed by the influx of visitors for the better part of the day. “Lots of traffic today,” the TV service acknowledged via Twitter, advising its users to “just keep trying.” Livestation later said it has served one million viewers today, despite these technical challenges.

Al-Jazeera’s own site has so far managed to keep its streams up and running, but the video occasionally stutters. Al-Jazeera English Head of Online Mohamed Nanabhay shared via Twitter that nearly 45 percent of the network’s current web traffic is coming from the U.S.

That little tidbit is relevant not just because it’s an indicator for the interest in this week’s events. It also explains, on a much more fundamental level, how Al-Jazeera’s online video coverage became one of the most important news sources for the tumultuous struggles for democracy in the Middle East.

Sure, part of the puzzle is obviously that Al-Jazeera has its base of operation in the region. But the fact that so many people seek out Al-Jazeera’s English-language online feed also has to do with the unique history of the network. Al Jazeera intended to make significant inroads in the U.S. news market when it launched in late 2006. It hired a number of high-profile reporters and anchors, including David Frost and the former U.S. Marine Josh Rushing.

However, the news network couldn’t gain a foothold in the U.S. cable market. Comcast (s CMCSA), Time Warner (s TWX) and Cablevision (s CVC) all declined to carry the channel. The operators cited economic reasons, but many critics suspected the aggressive stance of the Bush administration towards the network didn’t exactly help its cause either. Then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had called Al-Jazeera’s coverage of the Iraq War “vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable,” and some even went as far as to brand Al-Jazeera a “terror network.”

Without access to the majority of TV households, Al-Jazeera turned to the next best thing: the Internet. I did an interview with Russell Merryman in 2007, when he was working as the editor-in-chief of web and new media at Al-Jazeera English. Merryman told me a big part of embracing new media was an attempt to win over the hearts and minds of Americans, and he quoted from a review that called Al-Jazeera “the best cable news channel Americans can’t watch” as an early proof of success for that strategy.

Al-Jazeera embraced YouTube (s goog) early on for daily news clips, and soon after, opened a 24/7 live feed on Livestation. The network also more recently embraced Creative Commons licenses for some of its raw footage, and Nanabhay said it will make some of Friday’s footage from Cairo available under a Creative Commons license.

Ironically, the network has failed at its original goal. The big cable networks still don’t carry Al-Jazeera, and the ongoing disputes about retrans fees make it even less likely that they’re going to spend money on the network. However, the failure to capture cable has led to an unexpected success: Al-Jazeera has become a significant Internet TV news source, and the network’s live reporting from Egypt proves yet again that online, it’s far ahead of it’s U.S. competition.

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10 Responses to “Why Al-Jazeera Owns Internet TV’s Egypt Coverage”

  1. As I’ve been watching Al-Jazeera (AJE) all day on Comcast in Metro DC – you may want to update your story to include the fact that this channel is available in a number of areas in the US and has been running 24/7 in metro dc since April 2009. The digital transition provides more bandwidth or channel capacity to serve multi-channels. It may not be available in every market – and that has to do with whether or not the cable providers or satellite providers wish to carry the channel based on interest in the channel, channel capacity, current contracts, and profitability. I’ll avoid discussing details of must-carry, but pertinent to getting the channel or programs on some cable systems/markets.

    At the end of my post after some facts about the cable TV distribution, I also added information on other Al-Jazeera streaming/webcasting, and satellite sources and link on iphone app of Al-Jazeera on itunes.

    As we know, for cable companies, etc, sometimes, it’s more profitable to carry a shopping channel or say – the new Oprah Channel OWN, or discovery, or premium movie channels, etc.

    Al-Jazeera (Al-Jazeera English or AJE for short) channel is carried by MHZ Networks from Falls Church into the Washington DC Metro area as well as they carry 9 other channels devoted to news and news channel redistribution from China, France, Korea, etc. and do (as available/usually) run the channels as they are aired in those countries here, for the most part, and thus, allowing these channels to have their “freedom of speech” in the US of what they care to cover.

    It appears MHZ – the standard disclaimer being they don’t agree to everything the channels say – they provide a service to those of us who wish to understand the news, and hear different viewpoints from those outside of the US.

    I noted a bit ago that Mhz has a distribution agreement with Roku, but I am unsure of what is sliced an diced and/or repurposed for Roku from the 10 24 hour news channels that Mhz Networks serves up daily. Mhz also carries other entertainment programming usually from an international (or other than US) content provider and some of that content is available by subscription on Roku.

    As of (April) 2009, when Mhz picked up for cable redistribution Al-Jazeera the news release said that 20 other cable and broadcasters were to distribute the channel in the US.

    Here’s the satellite providers to pick up this channel in US – Globecast, Fision, JumpTV, VDC according to AJE

    This is from a Washington Post Story of the same date of their launch, “MHz, a nonprofit organization, will add AJE to its lineup of 10 international channels carried on the digital tiers offered by Comcast (the area’s largest cable provider, on Channel 271), Cox, RCN and Verizon Fios systems throughout the region. MHz will also offer it over the air July 1, after local stations have completed the transition to digital broadcasts.

    MHz will also distribute about one hour of AJE’s news on the MHz Worldview channel to public stations throughout Utah and in cities such as Chicago, San Francisco, Denver and Miami. In all, about 18 million households will be able to receive some or all of the network’s programming, said Frederick Thomas, MHz’s founder and chief executive.”

    According to other reports, I did not verify – they state more than 30 stations around the country carry worldview that includes an hour of Al-Jazeera programming daily along with its other mix of news around the world that showcases news perspectives from the news organizations originated in those countries.

    Whatever your viewpoints, in the US by distribution of these channels, it gives the viewer the choice to listen, or turn off the channel, allowing us freedom of listening and choice.

    Here are some streaming/webcasting options – and I haven’t reviewed this close enough (haven’t had time) to know which ones of these have rights to redistribute, or using embedded stream,etc.
    This provides a feed of AJE — reviewing today – solid – good quality streaming. (bug trucated top left)

    As mentioned in your original story – livemotion is found on a number of websites….ex? Livestation airing on dailymotion – pre-roll forced commercial – high quality stream, low latency.twitter click overlay top right

    Al-jazeera Live app version 1.2.6 livestation affiliation – available on iphone and ipod touch
    – livestation link –

    content provider stream – stuttering today. – no stream from promoted link

    and others….


  2. I rather not to watch Alqaeda’s favourite TV station to release press statements.

    Just because they report on Egypt doesn’t make Aljazeera a TV station that actively speaks out againts Arab dictators, which they don’t, given where their headquarters are based it is not strange at all.

    • Keep watching Fox News then.

      It’s not Al-Jazeera’s job to “actively speak out against Arab dictators.” Watch and you will see that it’s balanced and highly professional. The coverage of Egypt includes segments with both Govt. and opposition leaders.

    • Your ignorance is an affront to anyone who has watched/read journalism all over the world.

      The cowardice of American media, forever afraid to offer us news sources on the basis of their name or location is not a surprise. Since the demise of the original CNN, there has been little or no backbone in the US press.

      To offer an opinion wholly contrary to fact, simpleminded parroting of rightwing cant – is the saddest commentary on what American conservatism has become. No longer capable of independent thought.

    • Hi,

      It is the above bigoted attitude that is held in America that damages it’s own national interest, but worst is that it’s what was being held by the USG own officers.

      I remember at the time, there was an active effort to prevent AJE access, but they were too diplomatic to point out the cynics.

      As long as people can go to sleep in the comfort of “they hate us for our freedom”, rather than because we’ll support dictators who act as our puppets, and America needs to care more for Israel then it’s own national interest!

      Yours kindly,

      Methuselah Now