Listeners to WBAI have been enjoying Al Jazeera English since last December, when the progressive radio station started broadcasting in NYC. But until today people getting their news from the channel had to rely on their imaginations to paint images of Arab Spring protests and Israeli-Palestinian skirmishes. (Or visit their website.) Now you can get Al Jazeera on the tee-vee 23 hours a day, on Time Warner Cable (Channel 92) and Verizon FiOS (Channel 466) in New York City. It's the channel's first distribution on any major cable or satellite system in the United States.
The Times digs into why Al Jazeera, despite intense lobbying, has had a tough time breaking into American domestic markets. A handful of cable and satellite providers wield enormous power over what Americans see on television, and one cable industry consultant says, "It’s all about leverage in this business, and they [Al Jazeera] don’t have any." All of the top cable companies declined to comment on why Al Jazeera is having trouble getting on the air nationwide, but Cox Cable issued a statement saying it was "less about [Al Jazeera] and more indicative of the business environment... The incremental value of adding one channel to the hundreds in our lineup rarely offsets the broader challenges of rising programming costs and bandwidth management."
Indeed, each cable company has finite space for new channels, and Al Jazeera isn't alone in its struggle to break into the American cable market; BBC World News is also having a tough time getting a foothold. But how can they really expect to compete in the big game with channels like Spike, Game Show Network, VH1 Classic, and SoapNet?