Al Jazeera America is signing off:
Executives of Al Jazeera America (AJAM) today are holding a meeting at 2 p.m. Eastern Time to tell their employees that the company is terminating all news and digital operations in the U.S. as of April 2016, resulting in the loss of hundreds of jobs. The announcement marks a stunning and rapid collapse of what, from the start, has been a towering failure.
AJAM began when Al Jazeera purchased Current TV in late 2012 from founder Al Gore for $500 million, and the channel launched six months later. From the start, the project was beset with massive failures, from bitter internal strife and employee discrimination lawsuits to minuscule ratings and distribution failures. AJAM and Gore ended up in a protracted, embittered lawsuit with one another. Ratings were so low as to be almost unquantifiable; even by 2015, the network was averaging a tiny 30,000 viewers in prime-time and at some points had literally a zero rating in the key 25-54 demographic.
I realize they never really found a voice (were apparently unwilling to find one, actually) and their television programming left a lot to be desired. But in an American news market that’s already starved for world news, they were one of the few outlets that really seemed to make it a core focus. Al-Jazeera English isn’t going away, so that’s something, but AJAM’s TV coverage of world events is gone. Also, AJAM’s digital work was generally quite good; they employed a lot of talented writers doing important reporting on poverty, inequality, labor, prison reform, and other topics that don’t get so much attention at CNN, NBC, and the like. That work will genuinely be missed.
It’s no real mystery why this happened; the channel is hemorrhaging money left and right, and the Qatari government is no longer willing to subsidize a money loser with no tangible upside (from their perspective, per the ratings) with oil below $31/barrel. That price creates a lot of problems for a lot of countries:
Below are the break-even oil-price-per-barrel estimates for GCC countries this year, as calculated respectively by the IMF, the Institute of International Finance (IIF) and Deutsche Bank.
• Kuwait: $49.40 (IMF), $62.80 (IIF), $78.40 (Deutsche).
• Qatar: $60, $65.30, $76.80.
• UAE: $73.80, $73.60, $80.80.
• Saudi Arabia: $87.20, $109.40, $104.40.
• Oman: $102.60, $113.20, $110.00.
• Bahrain: $127.10, $130.20, $138.10.
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