Al Arabiya TV, the Saudi-owned satellite TV channel, takes a look at its Qatari-owned competition, Al-Jazeera TV. It looks specifically at Al-Jazeera’s purchase of Current TV, a progressive channel co-founded by former Vice President Al Gore and wonders if this makes any sense.
The article notes that because it is state-sponsored, Al-Jazeera doesn’t have the profit-making pressures that other news channels have. Profits are one thing; political influence is another. What made the Current TV purchase attractive, the article notes, is that that channel already had distribution in the US, something that Al-Jazeera has been struggling to get. Current TV, though, was pretty much a flop. In the latest ratings, it could claim only 42K prime-time viewers, compared to millions watching CNN or FOX. What’s more, just because cable networks carried Current TV was no guarantee that they would carry its new owner, Al-Jazeera. Indeed, within hours of the purchase, Time-Warner Cable dropped Current TV from its lineup.
The article may be self-serving on the part of Al Arabiya; it is in competition with Al-Jazeera. Further, there’s always been a certain amount of friction and bickering between Saudis and Qataris on many fronts. The purchase is clearly a gamble, though. I’m sure the Saudis would like to see it fail, both to thumb their noses at Qatar and to have a competitor shoot itself in the foot.
Al Jazeera’s hefty investment in a flagging U.S. television network has left many stuck for the answer to a simple question: Why?
The immediate reaction of many observers who have written about this was that it goes in line with general Qatari preoccupation with “buying influence” and exposure.
As such, if a non-profit state-backed organization such as Qatar Foundation was happy to throw away 150 million Euros to sponsor a Spanish soccer team (Barcelona FC) back in 2010 (with no real benefit from the exposure for the non-profit organization); it was certainly not a surprise to many when the Qatari state-funded broadcaster said earlier this month that it would buy Current TV, which was cofounded by former American vice-president Al Gore in 2005, for a whopping $500 million.
That price tag left many commentators aghast, not least because the left-leaning U.S. network had for some time struggled with low ratings, boasting a prime-time audience of just 42,000 in the fourth quarter of 2012.