Breaking: Al Jazeera America, the U.S. arm of the Qatar-based news network, is shutting down. The plan is to wind down the network, with a final on air date of April 30.
Al Jazeera America launched in August, 2013 after the global parent company acquired Current TV in January, 2013. Al Jazeera paid $500 million for the network, which included former VP Al Gore as an owner. Soon after the acquisition Time Warner Cable pulled Current TV from its lineup, an indication of the trouble AJAM would have getting carriage across the country.
The mood is, understandably, somber this afternoon as employees await a full staff meeting with human resources. One source tells TVNewser the company is offering generous severance packages.
“While Al Jazeera America built a loyal audience across the US and increasingly was recognized 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,” a press release reads.
The channel hired many familiar names including John Seigenthaler, Ali Velshi, Antonio Mora and Joie Chen to be the faces of the U.S. network. But the network was challenged by strong competition, low ratings and those challenges of full cable carriage.
In April, a former AJAM employee, Matthew Luke filed suit against the network claiming he was subject to “discriminatory, anti-Semitic and anti-American remarks.” That suit led to the resignations of three high-profile executives and the eventual departure of the Osman Mahmud, a senior VP at the network who was named in the suit. Within two weeks, CEO Ehab Al Shihabi was out, replaced by a Al Anstey who joined from Al Jazeera English.
“I greatly respect the unrivaled commitment and excellent work of our team, which has created great journalism,” Anstey said today. “We have increasingly set ourselves apart from all the rest, and the achievements of the past two-and-a-half years should be a source of immense pride for everyone.”
Here’s the news release from Al Jazeera:
DOHA, Qatar and NEW YORK, Jan. 13, 2016 — Al Jazeera Media Network (the “Network”) today announced from Doha its intention to expand its existing international digital services to broaden its multi-platform presence in the United States. As audiences increasingly turn to multiple platforms, including mobile devices, for news and information, this expansion will allow US and non-US consumers alike to access the Network’s journalism and content wherever and whenever they want.
The expanded digital platform will augment the Network’s successful current digital offerings, including AJ+ (www.ajplus.net) which has achieved more than two billion online video views since its inception in September 2014. The Network’s commitment to its digital transformation of its global operations is consistent with its mission to inform and engage audiences no matter who they are or where they are. By expanding its digital content and distribution services to now include the US, the Network will be better positioned to innovate and compete in an overwhelmingly digital world to serve today’s 24-hour digitally focused audience.
Over the coming months the Network intends to provide more details around the forthcoming expansion of its multi-platform digital services to the US.
Separately, Al Anstey, CEO of Al Jazeera America, today announced that Al Jazeera America will cease operation by April 30, 2016. While Al Jazeera America built a loyal audience across the US and increasingly was recognized 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. Al Jazeera America is committed to conducting this process in a way that is consistent with its respect for colleagues.
We recognize the high quality of Al Jazeera America’s work and that its journalism was recognized with nearly every major award an American broadcast and digital news organization can receive, including the Peabody, Emmy, and Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University awards.
Said Anstey: “I have witnessed and worked alongside some of the most talented people any organization could wish for. Since its launch in 2013, the work done by the team at Al Jazeera America has been recognized with nearly every major award an American news organization can receive. I greatly respect the unrivaled commitment and excellent work of our team, which has created great journalism. We have increasingly set ourselves apart from all the rest, and the achievements of the past two-and-a-half years should be a source of immense pride for everyone.”