Al Jazeera America announced it will close by April, citing economic difficulties.
Al Jazeera America, the cable television news outlet owned by Qatar-based Al Jazeera Media Network, is shutting down less than three years after its high-profile launch, the network said on Wednesday. The U.S. cable network will cease operations by April 30, the network said, citing economic challenges in the American media market. Al Jazeera bought Current TV, a U.S.-based television network owned by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and his business partner Joel Hyatt, to launch Al Jazeera America for $500 million in 2013. However, the network almost immediately hit challenges as distributors, including Time Warner Cable Inc (TWC.N) and AT&T Inc (T.N), argued that they had contracted with Current TV and not Al Jazeera.
The company said it will instead expand its existing international digital services in the United States, as consumers ditch traditional media and move to mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets for news. The network will provide more details about the expansion of its digital services in the United States over the coming months, it said.
Al Jazeera America went on the air in August 2013 after it bought Al Gore’s Current TV for $500 million. It promised to be thoughtful and smart, free of the shouting arguments that have defined cable news in the United States over the last decade. But meaningful viewership never came, with prime-time ratings sometimes struggling to exceed 30,000 viewers. To make matters worse, the newsroom was hit with turmoil last year when staff members complained bitterly of a culture of fear. There was an exodus of top executives, along with a pair of lawsuits from former employees that included complaints about sexism and anti-Semitism at the news channel. In May, Ehab Al Shihabi, the chief executive of Al Jazeera America, was replaced by Mr. Anstey. Morale improved in the following months but ratings remained low.
And Al Jazeera America has not been free of controversy in recent months. In November, the news station’s general counsel, David W. Harleston, was suspended following a report in The New York Times that he did not appear to be licensed to practice law. In late December, Al Jazeera aired an hourlong documentary that linked some of the biggest stars in Major League Baseball and the National Football League to performance-enhancing drugs. The most prominent athlete mentioned in the report was the Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who angrily denied the report, calling it “complete garbage” and “totally made up.”