One of the most surprising revelations in a call today with interim Al Jazeera CEO Ehab El Shihabi and president of newsgathering Kate O'Brian was that, unlike its more ad-heavy competitors, Al Jazeera America will have only six minutes per hour of commercials when it launches on Tuesday at 3 p.m.
El Shihabi described the limited advertising as "one of our key competitive advantages," emphasizing the company's commitment to serious news over punditry and movie stars at O'Charley's. "There will be less opinion, less yelling, and fewer celebrity sightings," said El Shihabi. "We are not infotainment."
The exec asserted forcefully that the programming would satisfy a huge, untapped audience. "We know that there is a desire for the kind of journalism we will have on Al Jazeera America," he said. "Americans want to have more in-depth coverage and less opinion; that is what we will have, and that is how Al Jazeera operates."
When pressed, El Shihabi said that the network was "very interested in understanding the market, and how this market matched with the demand for our core identity,” he told TVNewser's Alex Weprin, citing research that said "55 million households that are considered under-served.”
"We will have more than 14 hours of live news reported day and night, and we really mean that," said O'Brian. The network will provide around-the-clock coverage of events through its 12 U.S. bureaus, in addition to world news and material from stringers elsewhere in the country.
Still, the network is fighting a perception problem. "We have definitely done testing," said El Shihabi. "The questions were 'What do you think about Al Jazeera?' and 'Do you watch Al Jazeera?' Seventy-five percent of the people who did not watch Al Jazeera came from the negative side, and 90 percent of the people who watched Al Jazeera came from the positive side."
Both El Shihabi and O'Brian said they believe the programming will silence detractors. "I think people come with their own perceptions," said O'Brian. "Once they watch what we're doing, they'll see very quickly that we are not one news of any sort from one place all the time."