Al Jazeera America President Confident Ratings Will Come

2:35 PM PST 07/08/2014 by Michael O'Connell
ABC/ DONNA SVENNEVIK
Kate O'Brian

"There will be an inflection point when people realize what [we do]," says Kate O'Brien. "They won't want the right-leaning, the left-leaning or the infotainment."

It's been nearly a year since Al Jazeera America launched as a direct competitor to CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. A stateside outpost of the Qatar-based media giant, the network's journalistic efforts have already won multiple awards — though ratings have been slower to come.

Available in just north of 55 million American homes, Al Jazeera America has yet to enter the same conversation as the cable news behemoths. That's something president Kate O'Brian, the former ABC News exec tapped to lead the network last year, thinks will inevitably change.

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"There will be an inflection point when people realize what Al Jazeera does," she said on stage at the Television Critics Association summer press tour. "They won't want the right-leaning, the left-leaning or the infotainment. They'll come."

When one reporter acknowledged that Arabic name and Middle Eastern origins have likely been an obstacle for awareness — not to mention the small impact of former channel occupant Current TV — O'Brian and several of her producers admitted that many have been reluctant, or even refused, to cooperate with stories for those reasons. They also said there were just as many examples of people changing their minds.

"We are in this story to tell the story of Americans and to tell the story of the world to Americans — that's why we have so many bureaus," added O'Brian. "It's a well-respected brand throughout the world. We will get there in America. It will come in time. I firmly believe that will happen."

Because the Internet still evades many members of the TCA, O'Brian was also asked point blank what "Al Jazeera" means. "Al Jazeera means the peninsula," she quipped, "like Qatar is a peninsula, like Florida is a peninsula."

But the question of Qatar is an issue of its own at the moment. With the 2014 FIFA World Cup making headlines for the past month, circumstances in the 2022 host country have come under great scrutiny. Deaths during stadium construction and an inhospitable attitude toward gays have been two of the biggest criticisms for Qatar.

"I can tell you there has been absolutely no editorial influence at all from Doha," O'Brian said of the state's capital and Al Jazeera's headquarters. "We are completely independent."

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