Al Jazeera English Leads Egypt Coverage, But Most Americans Still Can’t Watch It

By Alex Weprin 

While some of the American TV networks are receiving praise for their coverage of the situation in Egypt (ABC News and CNN come to mind) there is little doubt that the one network receiving the most praise from media critics is Al Jazeera English.

Even after the Egyptian government revoked its broadcast license, the network continued to broadcast to the rest of the world. This morning six Al Jazeera reporters were detained by the military. They have since been released, but their equipment has been confiscated.

While Al Jazeera English is available via an online stream here in the U.S., it is only available on cable TV through a few small cable providers in places like Vermont and Washington DC.

Journalism professor Jeff Jarvis has started a campaign called “We Want Our Al Jazeera English Now,” but will the big guys like Comcast or Time Warner Cable take that cue?

Probably not.

Carriage deals, even relatively inexpensive ones (as AJE would be) are a long process. Cable providers need to find channel space for the network, contracts need to be drawn out, and a monthly carriage fee agreed upon. These types of discussions take weeks, at the very least, and often take months.

Even if negotiations started today, by the time AJE was actually available, the crisis in Egypt will probably have been resolved.

More to the point, they need some proof that the network will be one that people would watch… even after the Egyptian crisis is over. While there are dozens of cable networks that few people watch, many are forcibly bundled upon cable providers by big media companies like News Corp. and NBC Universal.

A cable provider wants Fox News Channel? Well they had better be prepared to carry Fox Business Network and National Geographic Wild too. They want ESPN? The they will need to take ESPNU and ESPN Classic.

Then there is the politics. As Spud at Inside Cable News notes, AJE has a reputation here in the U.S., a reputation that may sometimes be warranted, but more often is overblown.

The network’s coverage of Egypt has been superb, but like its American counterparts, once the big news event dies down, the quality of its coverage often declines with it. Will the people calling for AJE now be tuning in regularly once Cablevision starts carrying it on channel 180? Don’t bet on it.