Al Jazeera America Rethinks Primetime, Adds Live News Block

AP
Ehab Al Shihabi

"AJAM entered the market to fill a void and preserve the tradition of seriousness and excellence in news programming, at a time when many of our competitors have adopted a different tradition," writes CEO Ehab Al Shihabi.

While some cable news networks are moving more into programming and away from live news, Al Jazeera America is hoping the opposite strategy will boost its extremely low ratings.

CEO Ehab Al Shihabi sent out a staff wide memo on Friday afternoon, promising big changes in 2015 — among them, a near-immediate revamping of the primetime line-up to include three hours of live news coverage. 

"Beginning Feb. 2, we will expand our live news in prime time to 3 straight hours from 7pm to 10pm," writes Al Shihabi. "We’ll start with a national news hour at 7pm, followed by a program with deeper dives and more investigation into specific issues at 8pm, and then an internationally focused hour at 9pm with analysis of stories that impact the U.S."

Also on deck for Al Jazeera America? A new approach for mornings after eliminating morning news shows. "Simultaneously, we will be developing a new morning news format from 7am - 9am," he added. "We will give our viewers the national and international news that happened while they were sleeping; enlightened analyses from our editorial specialists of what to expect in the day ahead;  and the best in cultural offerings from around the world. During that development process, we will be bringing Fault Lines, TechKnow, and Inside Story to a morning audience."

Al Jazeera American encountered a steep uphill battle to find viewers when it launched in 2013. Inheriting the dial spot for little-watched Current TV, the infusion of news programming has yet to boost numbers. For 2014, primetime averaged a mere 22,000 viewers — just 7,000 of them in the targeted news demo of adults 25-54. The latter marked a 9 percent drop from Current's already-weak showing the previous year.

Working with Al Shihabi on the launch has been network president Kate O'Brian, who came over from ABC News.

Read the complete memo below:

Dear Colleagues,

Since the network’s inception, Al Jazeera Media Network has served as a private entity for the public good with a global orientation, providing incisive news and documentary programming covering the large scope and complexity of the human experience. With its motto “the opinion and the other opinion,” it acts as a forum for plurality, seeking the truth while observing the principles of journalistic professionalism within an institutional framework. While promoting public awareness of local and global issues, Al Jazeera aspires to be a bridge between cultures, to support peoples' right to obtain knowledge, and to strengthen the values of democracy and the respect of human liberties and basic rights In 2013, AJAM was handed the torch of in-depth, investigative and accountability reporting and committed to carry on the well-established tradition of producing real, hard news.

AJAM entered the market to fill a void and preserve the tradition of seriousness and excellence in news programming, at a time when many of our competitors have adopted a different tradition. They have blurred once clear lines between news and entertainment; between the serious and the trivial; between news and opinion; and between news that has an immediate and direct impact on peoples’ lives and news shaped primarily to attract and entertain audiences.

It was an eventful 2014 with major stories from all over the globe demanding our attention and keeping our teams busy. We brought the world to our audience with unparalleled depth and speed. That has been validated externally multiple times by the awards we’ve won and the reviews we’ve received.  And 2015 will be no less exciting.  We will report stories no one else is reporting, cover the news that matters to our audience, and work as one team to share the best ideas and resources.  We will hold ourselves to the highest standard as we continue to assess and invest in our content and production. We will stay true to our core values.  And we will also  focus on the most important measure of our success:  our impact upon the public good.  For Al Jazeera, the news is not merely an opportunity – it is an obligation.  And we will fulfill that obligation every single day. 


In the near term, beginning February 2, we will expand our live news in prime time to 3 straight hours from 7pm to 10pm. We’ll start with a national news hour at 7pm, followed by a program with deeper dives and more investigation into specific issues at 8pm, and then an internationally focused hour at 9pm with analysis of stories that impact the U.S.

At 10pm we’ll present Fault Lines on Mondays and America Tonight as a half hour Tuesday through Friday. This will allow AT to focus much more deeply on investigations and other stories of significant impact to our audience.

Real Money will be moving to 1030pm and will transition to a more hard-hitting program with emphasis on the impact of money and the accompanying accountability in all areas – politics, business, social issues, and more. We’ll share more details and a new title shortly.

At 11pm we’ll again air news at a time when our audience has clearly shown a desire for something other than happy talk, entertainment updates, or local car accidents.

And at 1130pm, we’ll schedule Inside Story, which will be focused much more on dissecting the big story of the day. We have some exciting new features for the show which we’ll be introducing very soon.

We are going to continue our expanded news wheel throughout the overnight, morning, and midday hours. News is at the heart of Al Jazeera and our strong advantage in the market is embodied in our 24/7 live news programs. Our commitment to news around-the-clock remains at the heart of our mission. We will have an average of 14 hours per day of live news from our newsrooms in New York, London and Doha.

Simultaneously, we will be developing a new morning news format from 7am - 9am. We will give our viewers the national and international news that happened while they were sleeping; enlightened analyses from our editorial specialists of what to expect in the day ahead;  and the best in cultural offerings from around the world. During that development process, we will be bringing Fault Lines, TechKnow, and Inside Story to a morning audience.

In addition while Consider This will cease production, that team will be designing, piloting and launching a new program which will deliver on the promise of holding truth to power by delving into subjects others might consider too sensitive for cable news.

Certainly none of these shows will be a final version by the time we schedule these changes, but we believe that in a very short period of time, all of them will provide a powerhouse line-up of news, investigations, and analysis that will be second to none.

We have a number of exciting documentaries on the schedule including “Freeway: Crack in the System” which is attracting a great deal of interest across the country, and “Hard Earned” from the award-winning Kartemquin Films, with more to come.

We are also finalizing the multi-million dollar investment in our new Washington D.C. location which we’ll share with AJE and AJA. We expect to move into this spectacular facility in the center of the city sometime this spring. Additionally plans are proceeding well on our new HQ in New York, which should be completed in 2016.

It is our goal to continue adding new programs to our line-up as we grow over the coming months and years. Our objective is always to have our news coverage reflect the many significant events affecting our viewers. As we review the events of the last year, we cannot ignore the pivotal role played by news events outside of the U.S., whether the events were in Ukraine, Gaza, or more recently Paris. Given the 82 AJMN bureaus around the world, we have a unique advantage in our ability to bring in-depth coverage to stories wherever they occur in a timely manner. We can bring the type of balanced examinations on serious topics that have been missing in much of recent U.S. news coverage. We must be as up-close-and-personal globally as we have been in Ferguson and throughout America. We are committed to covering every important story and bringing real news to our audience in the U.S.

Thank you for all of your hard work. I’m looking forward to a great and productive 2015.

Regards
Ehab Al Shihabi

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