Al Jazeera eyeing more eyes in '08

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Al Jazeera English has set its sights on millions of new viewers for the new year, especially in the U.S. and India, managing director Nigel Parsons said Thursday.

"We're quietly optimistic of announcing a major deal in the United States within the next six months," he said, adding that the 24-hour news and current affairs channel already has signed several license deals in principle in India but is waiting to get an official broadcast license.

"I believe it's just bureaucracy, but we're close to getting a license," he said of India.

Launched a year ago with an audience of 80 million households worldwide, the English service of the Doha-based broadcaster — 100% owned by the Qatari government — now claims to have an audience of 110 million households, including 2 million in the U.S. through a deal there with Burlington Telecom.

The broadcaster will increase its presence in Hong Kong in 2008 by launching on cable there in January and also is hoping to boost its presence in Singapore, where it recently signed an IPTV deal and applied for a cable license.

"Our competitors have an audience of about 200 million. Clearly we want to be out there with them at least, if not more," Parsons said, adding that the broadcaster intends to focus on hotel distribution during the coming months as well as looking at the Latin American market.

Parsons recently submitted his 2008 budget wish list to the owners. It includes opening bureaus in Bangkok, Thailand; Damascus, Syria; and Lagos, Nigeria; as well as setting up studios in Nairobi, Kenya; and Gaza.

The broadcaster also is planning a hard relaunch in second-quarter 2008 with "new programs and new people," Parsons said. Its employee numbers have risen from 800 to 1,100 (including 450 journalists).

"I don't expect to add a lot more staff. I think we might expand to about 1,200 total," he said.

Parsons declined comment on the broadcaster's revenue but conceded that after one year it was "not close to break-even." He said it was not a concern because the station was not established as a commercial enterprise.
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