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Al Jazeera is shutting down its American cable and digital news operation barely three years after it launched, and will cease functioning at the end of April. "Our business model is simply not sustainable in light of the economic challenges in the US media marketplace," said Al Jazeera America CEO Al Anstey in an email to staffers after they were told the news at a meeting.
"While Al Jazeera America built a loyal audience across the US and increasingly was recognised as an important new voice in television news, the economic landscape of the media environment has driven its strategic decision to wind down its operations and conclude its service," said a statement from the company.
As many as 700 workers will lose their jobs as the American broadcast and online operation ends. The Qatar-based company, however, plans to expand its English digital news content at some point as part of its global online presence so some personnel may be retained.
Al Jazeera America offered a thoughtful, sober new perspective within the standard run of media outlets in the US, and it won a number of journalism awards — but that didn't translate to viewers, nor did it attract sufficient advertisers. The news station was averaging just 30,000 viewers in prime time. It reached about 60 million households, compared with 100 million for other cable broadcasters. The operation, launched in August 2013 with the purchase of Al Gore's Current TV for $500m (£347m), was out to "win the mind and heart of the American audience," then AJAM CEO Ehab Al Shihabi said at the time. "The rating is very critical for us," he added. "The margin of the profit also is critical for us."
As it struggled to grow, the operation was hit by worker complaints of a culture of fear, sexism and anti-Semitism. Other finances no doubt played a key role in its demise. Al Jazeera is funded by the government of Qatar and its royal family, which are battling their own declining revenues as the price of oil plunges.
The company's statement said it will continue to pursue a global strategy that would allow American viewers to follow its journalism "wherever and whenever they want." Prior to Al Jazeera America's launch, US viewers could watch the network's English-language newscasts online. Access was blocked when AJAM started, though that will likely change.