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Al Jazeera America Launch Plan: Fewer Commercials, Less Celebrity News

Ehab Al Shihabi - P 2013
AP
Ehab Al Shihabi

"There will be less opinion, less yelling," said CEO Ehab Al Shihabi during a Thursday conference call.

Al Jazeera America executives hope that viewers will tune in for next Tuesday's launch and get acquainted with a network that promises a generous helping of hard news without celebrity filler. 

"There will be less opinion, less yelling and fewer celebrity sightings," said interim CEO Ehab Al Shihabi during a conference call with reporters on Thursday. Prior to launch, the network has positioned itself as a alternative to CNN and touted unbiased reporting in contrast to partisan-leaning MSNBC and Fox News. The network now boasts a staff of nearly 900 and is set to appear in 49 million households. 

AJA will also feature fewer commercials than its competition. The network will have six minutes of commercials per hour compared to "fifteen to seventeen minutes" per hour that other channels air, said the interim CEO. "We are not infotainment," he added. 

"The American viewer is looking for a particular set of things that they just can't find in the marketplace," said president Kate O'Brian. "And that's unbiased coverage, in-depth, quality coverage and telling stories that they don't really hear in any of the news product that's out there right now."

O'Brian, who acknowledged the channel was entering a "fairly busy media landscape," was formerly a senior vp at ABC News. She was announced as the Al Jazeera America president in late July, less than a month before the set launch date. As much as $600 million has already been spent by Al Jazeera Media Networks to launch the U.S. cable news network, sources told The Hollywood Reporter last month.

Al Jazeera America has aggressively recruited talent ahead of its launch.

CNN's chief business correspondent Ali Velshi was hired to anchor the weeknight primetime show Real Money. CNN's Starting Point host Soledad O'Brien will serve as correspondent on America Tonight, a nightly newsmagazine show, and produce documentaries for the network.

NBC News' Michael Viqueira was hired as chief White House correspondent, MSNBC's David Shuster was named a breaking news anchor and former ABC anchor Antonio Mora will host the 10 p.m. current affairs talk show, Consider This.

Former NBC weekend host John Seigenthaler, who was hired to anchor primetime news, likened his brief experience at the network to MSNBC's launch over a decade ago.

"I was the first anchor MSNBC hired in 1996," he told THR. "That was a startup. In many ways, the excitement, the organized chaos that goes along with a startup is very much a part of this, and some really talented people are coming together to put this on the air. And it's a big task and they're up to it."

E-mail: Erik.Hayden@THR.com
Twitter: @Erik_Hayden