NEW YORK — Frustrated by its continuing inability to crack the American television market, Al-Jazeera English's new strategy is to make itself available for free on every other possible screen.
The Qatar-based news network said its 24-hour newscast has been streamed over the Internet for 18 months. The company said it will expand its presence on various smart phones, is launching an iPad application and is aggressively distributing content through Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
The network also says that its "Initiative for Internet Freedom" takes a stance against pay walls being put in place for any of its news content.
"We feel our news and programming is a public resource that should be distributed to as many people as possible," said Tony Burman, the network's managing director.
Burman said Al-Jazeera English hasn't given up on increasing its television distribution, and sees some encouraging signs. But he said the changing media world, where people seek information in other places, makes that resistance less important every day.
Since its launch as the English-language offshoot of the Arabic Al-Jazeera Network, AJE has found it virtually impossible to win a space on an American cable or satellite system. It is currently available only on cable systems in Washington, D.C., in Toledo, Ohio, and in Burlington, Vt. Some individual AJE newscasts are shown through Link TV on the DirecTV and DISH Network satellite systems.
Burman blamed a "very aggressive hostility" toward Al-Jazeera from the Bush administration for making cable and satellite companies reluctant to show the network. He said the Obama administration seems more willing to deal with the network since it has taken office and hopes there could soon be a change in heart among providers.
"We're really determined to make a breakthrough in New York," he said.
Dave Marash, a former ABC News "Nightline" reporter who worked at Al-Jazeera English from 2006 to 2008, said it was smart business for the network to pursue every possible platform. It indicates "a sincere effort to grow a truly global audience and the willingness to do things even if it takes 10 or 20 years," he said.
Marash said the network has been hurt by its decision to position itself as a voice for the Arabic and Middle East perspective. When he started, the network took a more cosmopolitan view of covering the entire world in a way that many television news rivals did not, he said.
"If they were addressing an American audience more neutrally, it would have a much more appealing product," he said.
When Marash left Al-Jazeera English two years ago, he said it was partly due to an anti-American bias that he felt at the network.
Burman said Marash had a "totally erroneous" view of the network. "We're not a Middle Eastern channel," he said.
He said he was encouraged that Canadian authorities last year approved the network's application to be shown on that country's cable and satellite systems. Al-Jazeera English is now available on many systems there already and negotiations are underway with others.
The network's executives hope the wide availability of AJE on other platforms will show cable systems that there is interest in the programming.
During the three months that Al-Jazeera English has streamed its programming on the iPhone and iPod Touch devices, one-third of the times they were viewed was in the United States, the network said. Similarly, one-third of the times network programming was posted on YouTube it was from within the U.S.
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