Al Jazeera America to Shut Down

Network to Call It Quits in April

Al Jazeera America, the American network arm of Arab news organization Al Jazeera, will shut down by April 30, the company said in a prepared statement.

The decision ends what has been a nearly three-year odyssey for the channel, which debuted in 2013 after its parent purchased the former Current TV network from former U.S. Vice President Al Gore for $500 million. The channel, the U.S. offshoot of Arab news organization Al Jazeera, had ambitious plans, hiring former ABC News executive Kate O’Brian as president to run its news operations just prior to its launch in 2013.

In the end, despite winning several prestigious journalism awards, the cost of running the network was just too high and the ratings too low, to continue on.

According to CNN, the plummeting price of oil, which made it harder for Al Jazeera’s owners – Al Jazeera Media Group, in turn owned by the government of Qatar – to continue to subsidize the network, was a factor in the decision to shut down operations, as was upcoming cable carriage deals. Some of Al Jazeera America’s carriage agreements were coming due this year, and recent moves by cable, telco and satellite TV operators to winnow low-rated networks – Al Jazeera America averaged just 20,000 to 40,000 viewers per day, according to reports – reduced the channel’s chances of winning affiliate fee increases.   

More recently the network was rocked by discrimination allegations, which ended in the ouster of its U.S. chief Ehab Al Shahibi in May. He was replaced as CEO by Al Anstey, who had been managing director of Al Jazeera English.

According to CNN, citing an internal company memo, Anstey said the decision to pull the plug on the network was “driven by the fact our business model is simply not sustainable in an increasingly digital world, and because of the current global financial challenges."  

In late December the network turned heads with an exclusive report claiming top professional athletes, including Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and Washington Nationals Ryan Zimmerman used performance-enhancing drugs. Both Manning and Zimmerman have denied the reports, with Zimmerman filing a defamation suit against the network.

"I have witnessed and worked alongside some of the most talented people any organisation could wish for,” Anstey said in a statement. “Since its launch in 2013, the work done by the team at Al Jazeera America has been recognized with nearly every major award an American news organization can receive. I greatly respect the unrivalled commitment and excellent work of our team, which has created great journalism. We have increasingly set ourselves apart from all the rest, and the achievements of the past two-and-a-half years should be a source of immense pride for everyone."