Al Jazeera America Bows Without AT&T U-verse

Al Jazeera America, the latest cable news network, officially launched last Tuesday, but then made some unwelcome off -air distribution news of its own.

The network, which took over for Al Gore’s Current TV, said it sued AT&T Tuesday in Delaware Chancery Court after the telco’s U-verse TV service dropped it prior to launch. U-verse has about 5 million customers.

“We’re obviously still in contact with them and hopefully that will be resolved,” Paul Eedle, Al Jazeera America’s deputy launch manager in charge of programs, told Multichannel News last Thursday (Aug. 22).

As of press time last week, there was no movement made since the lawsuit was filed, AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel said. The U-verse TV service dropped Current at 11:59 p.m. on Aug. 19. The telco said it was unable to “reach an agreement with the owner that we believed provided value for our customers and our business” and thus would not be carrying Al Jazeera America.

The news network, which said it launched in more than 42 million homes, was still trying to secure a distribution deal with Time Warner Cable as of last Thursday. The MSO dropped Current TV in January, after it was sold to Al Jazeera Media for a reported $500 million.

Al Jazeera America’s on-air launch drew mostly positive reviews from media reporters and bloggers as the network rolled out its lineup of 14 live hours from its 12 U.S. bureaus and its parent’s 70 international bureaus.

The Guardian’s Ana Marie Cox said the network’s indepth reporting compared favorably to the often-short news soundbites provided by its competitors.

“It looks and feels, for the most part, like the kind of cable news you’re used to watching — but if you linger on the channel for any length of time, you’ll notice something: the topic hasn’t changed since you touched the remote,” she wrote in a blog Wednesday.

Among its detractors was controversial conservative personality Glenn Beck, who reportedly claimed last Monday on his Internet-based The Glenn Beck Show that Al Jazeera America is “the voice of the enemy.” Beck is currently pitching his conserweb-based network The Blaze to cable operators.

Eedle brushed off Beck’s comments, saying it’s up to the network to prove its merits to the American public. He said the Al Jazeera name would not be a hindrance.

“You’re not going to please all of the people all of the time,” he said. “It’s down to us to prove that our form of fact-based, human-centered journalism is relevant and useful to Americans.”

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.