Which Cable Channels Could Go To Make Room for Al Jazeera English?

By Alex Weprin 

The Kansas City Star‘s Aaron Barnhart writes about one of the biggest challenges facing Al Jazeera English as it seeks carriage here in the U.S.: limited channel space.

Barnhart’s hook is to look at cable television’s “least wanted” channels, or channels that could go to make room for AJE. He used Nielsen’s Cable Network Audience Comparison report, which looks at how many households each network was viewed in.

Only channels that have been in existence at least three years were counted by Barnhart, which spared Fox Business Network from being included.

So which network was “least wanted?” Here’s a hint: it is the soon to be home of a certain high-profile former MSNBC commentator…

Yes, Current TV was at the top (or is that bottom?) of the list, having been viewed in only 18,000 households last quarter. Current was followed by ESPN Classic, VH1 Classic and Fox Soccer Channel with 19,000, 31,000 and 33,000 households, respectively.

By comparison, cable leader ESPN averaged 2.683 million households, and CNN averaged 354,000.

FBN averaged 39,000 households, and would have made the list were it not only two years old.

As Barnhart points out, with the exception of Current and RFD-TV, essentially all of cable’s least wanted channels are owned by media congolmerates. That is a big part of the reason why AJE will have challenges securing channel space.

Even though FBN and Fox Soccer Channel are not viewed by many people, if a carrier wants the Fox broadcast network or Fox News Channel, they need to carry the smaller networks too.

Or as Barnhart explained:

Unlike Current, the rest of Cable’s Least Wanted don’t have a ratings savior waiting in the wings. Many of them have been propped up by their parent companies for years. They are widely distributed. They have marketing staffs and promotional budgets. They have had plenty of time to reach an audience. They have never, to my knowledge, contributed to our understanding of the Middle East.

It’s worth asking why they continue to take up bandwidth in tens of millions of homes. It’s certainly worth asking if you’re one of the 7 million Americans who recently had to stream the unrest in Egypt on Al Jazeera English because it wasn’t on your cable system.