Al Jazeera America has bailed on taking questions from TV critics at TV Press Tour for the second time. In fairness, the fledgling cable network did provide breakfast for the critics this morning at Winter TV Press Tour 2014, per its original arrangement with the group that organizes the cable-TV days of each tour. But no AJA execs or talent were around, to take questions from the critics. Al Jazeera America also had cancelled, at the 11th hour, on its scheduled Q&A session at Summer TV Press Tour 2013.
Fortunately, most of what were sure to be the critics’ more pressing questions this morning got recently asked of AJA’s primetime news anchor/former NBC News anchor John Segenthaler just days earlier, by Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report:
Colbert: This is the network where Bin Laden used to send his gloating tapes.
Seigenthaler: We’re part of the Al Jazeera Media Network…
Colbert: Which is part of the Al Qaeda Media Network.
Seigenthaler: We can bust some myths here, because it is absolutely NOT part of the Al Qaeda network.
Colbert: Al Qaeda America – whatever.
(Colbert points to Al Jazeera America logo)
Colbert: That is terrifying. That that is not only Arabic, it looks like Arabic on fire – it looks like exploding Arabic. Why shouldn’t I be afraid?
Seigenthaler: Do you know what it means?
Colbert: It says ‘The bombing starts at midnight’.
Seigenthaler: No. It means ‘peninsula’.
Colbert: What does that mean — is that a metaphor?
Seigenthaler: ‘Penninsula’, [like] Florida.
Colbert: That’s where the attack is coming?
Colbert also asked Seigenthaler, who formerly worked for NBC News, what was the draw for him at AJA. “If you are watching journalism and news over the last four or five years –” Seigenthaler began.
“I am journalism and news,” Colbert interrupted.
Related: Al Jazeera America Execs Vow To Add Jobs, Bureaus, And Programming
Had they come to the press tour, AJA’s Interim CEO Ehab Al Shihabi and President Kate O’Brian no doubt would have reiterated what they said recently in a memo to staffers — that this year the network will add to the 12 bureaus Al Jazeera America already has in the U.S., though they did not get bogged down with pesky things like a number. The execs, in that recent memo to staffers, also promised to introduce a new morning news program, a new weekly sports program, a new weekly culture show and multiple new documentary series, and “a renewed emphasis on investigative reporting.”
Since the news channel launched in August, they said, the network’s increased distribution and online interest have convince them they should fast-track our plans to meet “projected increased demand.” In December, Time Warner Cable finally launched the Qatar-owned news channel (that unveiled in the U.S. on August 20, 2013) to its lineup. That brought to nearly 55 million the number of homes in which the channel is available in the U.S.
Throw your mind back to January 2 of ’13, when Current TV CEO Joel Hyatt confirmed the sale of that network to Al Jazeera in a memo to staffers. Time Warner Cable would not consent to the sale, said Current would no longer be carried on TWC, and that it was “removing the service as quickly as possible,” while promising it was “keeping an open mind.” The loss of the No. 2 cable operator cost Al Jazeera America 12.2M video subscribers (Current reached about 59M homes). It wasn’t until October that the two parties reached a carriage agreement and TWC announced it would carry the network on its TWC and Bright House Networks systems. Back then, TWC EVP Melinda Witmer explained, “Now that the channel is live, we think that it would be of value to our customers and are pleased to make it available.” That made Al Jazeera America available via TWC in the country’s top two markets, New York and Los Angeles.