Al Jazeera’s new online channel aims to ‘empower global conversations’

Launched as a response to the “generation of people who want to go behind the box,” Al Jazeera’s Innovation and Incubation Manager Moeed Ahmad promotes Al Jazeera Plus (AJ+) as “a fresh approach” to the interactive online population.

by WAN-IFRA Staff | October 11, 2013

The channel will initially be launched in English in early 2014 with the main office in San Francisco, though dedicated offices will also be set up in Johannesburg, Beijing and New Delhi amongst other places, and an Arabic-language channel will be soon to follow. Ahmad told The Hollywood Reporter that they “want to make content native to the audiences and cultures we serve.”

AJ+ follows the August launch of an Al Jazeera TV news channel in the United States, which replaced Current TV, the cable television network funded by former US Vice-President Al Gore. The channel has historically had difficulties in attracting a US audience, at least partly due to certain perceptions that it is anti-American. The US TV channel and the English-language online channel highlight Al Jazeera’s push to appeal to American audiences.

Yaser Bishr, Al Jazeera’s Executive Director for Strategy and Development, hopes that the online channel will “grab attention, captivate and empower global conversations.” The focus on YouTube is an interesting retracing of steps taken in August, in the run-up to the launch of their US TV channel. As a concession that they made to “get TV operators to carry its new Al Jazeera Network,” the channel blocked US viewers from watching certain videos on YouTube and their live stream online. Although Al Jazeera representatives had little choice in the matter, as Brian Selter writing for The New York Times suggested, it seemed as if they had “sacrificed Internet distribution for a shot at traditional distribution.” AJ+, therefore, should placate those outraged by the previous filtering of Al Jazeera news available on YouTube.

This is not, however, the first of its kind. On 1 July, the Israel-based i24 News launched a tri-lingual 24 hour online news channel that aims to provide a “new perspective” which will reflect “that of Israeli society in all its forms.” Amy Hadfield reporting on the channel just before its launch describes how Frank Melloul, who led the project, “distanced the i24 brand from Al Jazeera’s model, rejecting the idea that he is creating an Israeli equivalent by insisting that “we are not here to create propaganda for the State of Israel.’ ” It is interesting, therefore, that Al Jazeera’s online channel will follow so closely the model presented by i24.

Both channels represent an ever-growing cognisance in the news community of the need to adapt to the internet generation. Ahmad recently supported BuzzFeed President Jon Steinberg’s assertion that “traditional media have given up on young people, and have not made a commitment to tell stories that are interesting for people under 40 or 50 years old” at the MIPCOM conference in Cannes this week.

AJ+ is therefore positioning itself amongst other newer news platforms in seeking to “respect” the “YouTube generation,” as Stuart Dredge reports for the Guardian. Crucially, AJ+ is not aiming to act as a site for breaking news, but rather a way of adding “clarity through context” to breaking news on social media sites.

It seems likely that, in working to appeal to younger audiences and to act as a complement to social media and other news platforms, AJ+ may have a successful future ahead of it. It will be interesting to see how many other news channels follow their lead, and the lead of i24, in broadening their broadcasting scope and widening their audience appeal with a dedicated online news channel.

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