Al Jazeera America’s launch: Short on advertisers, big on trash-talk

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It only took five minutes into its launch for Al Jazeera America to slam its cable news competitors. Showing fleeting clips of Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, MSNBC’s Al Sharpton and CNN’s Piers Morgan, the new network claimed to offer an alternative.

It was quick to show Hillary Clinton saying  Al Jazeera’ viewership is growing in the United States “because it’s real news” and John McCain’s praising the network for making a “contribution.”

Al Jazeera America may have access to a large audience, but experts say advertisers will be few. The company is spinning the shortage as an intentional effort to provide fewer commercials than other news stations, with about six minutes of ads per hour, compared to more than 15 minutes an hour on competing networks, according to CBS Moneywatch.

“We don’t have to sacrifice our journalism for commercial minutes, so you won’t be seeing bumper-to-bumper stories about celebrity trials,” Al Jazeera spokesman Stan Collender told CBS. “The most important thing from the launch, and for a while after that, is that people see we’re doing what we promised to do by delivering solid journalism.”

The Florida Family Association has enlisted numerous email campaigns asking supporters to contact Current TV advertisers, to request they pull their ads prior to Al Jazeera’s launch. The association claims 118 companies have discontinued advertising on the network.

Financed in part by oil and gas money from the Qatar government, Al Jazeera America can weather an ad shortage better than most other news outlets, experts say. CBS commented on the benefits of unlimited financial support:

[Al Jazeera] has in a matter of months built a staff of 900, including 400 newsroom employees. This makes it one of the biggest ever launches of a news organization. Al Jazeera will have bureaus in New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Nashville, New Orleans, San Francisco and Seattle.

The network’s deep pockets also has allowed it to hire many seasoned TV news professionals. They include John Seigenthaler, a former news anchor at NBC and MSNBC; Joie Chen, a former anchor and correspondent at CNN and CBS News; Antonio Mora, once the chief news correspondent at “Good Morning America”; and Sheila MacVicar, a veteran of ABC News, CBS News and CNN.

Watch the first five minutes of Al Jazeera America here via Mediaite:

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