Al Jazeera America, the channel that will replace Current TV, will launch on Aug. 20 at 3 p.m. ET, and five days from launch interim CEO Ehab Al-Shihabi assures the network is ready.
“We’re not just ready we are more than ready,” Al-Shihabi said Thursday on a conference call with reporters. He said the team has been piloting the channel and making tweaks for the last few weeks.
Al Jazeera has stressed that its mission is to be an unbiased, news-focused network, covering stories that aren’t covered elsewhere with a focus on issues of importance to Americans through 12 U.S bureaus. “There will be less opinion, less yelling and fewer celebrity sightings,” Al-Shihabi said.
The network will have 14 hours of live news throughout the day and night at launch, and though Kate O’Brian was only named president of Al Jazeera America last month, she said she has had some input in the lineup. “The mission of Al Jazeera would be the same as any stamp I would want to put on,” said O’Brian, a 30-year veteran of ABC News, noting the opportunity to cover underreported stories around the world. “Al Jazeera is giving us the option to do that and supporting us in a way where we really can go and cover those stories.”
Al Jazeera America executives have stressed they are not concerned with ratings or revenue, at least at the outset (its programs will continue six minutes of commercials per hour, far fewer than its competitors). Instead, they will measure success by the impact on viewers – how many are talking about the channel and contacting their cable provider to request its carriage.
“Our success is based on how well we tell the stories of news that is important to the American audience,” O’Brian said. “Once we are out there and people are watching us, that will create the impact, that will create a rolling success that will turn into ratings, which will turn into revenue.”
Al Jazeera America remains without carriage agreements on several major cable operators, including Time Warner Cable and Cablevision, and Al-Shihabi said he remains in conversation with most of them. The network is hoping that once it launches and has a product to point to, it can overcome some of the carriage and branding problems it has faced: Al-Shihabi shared market research that found that of viewers who had not watched Al Jazeera English, 75% had a negative opinion of it. When the same question was asked of viewers who had seen the channel, 90% had a positive opinion.
The network released its programming schedule on Wednesday but it will be adding more programming in the coming months, including a weekly sports show and an in-depth documentary series.