Updated at 10:04 p.m. ET
The eruption of protests in the Middle East and Egypt has thrown a spotlight on the availability of international channels streamed over the internet. That has produced a major increase in traffic and video usage at a number of sites for international news networks and helped some networks like Aljazeera English expand their distribution, at least online.
Al Jazeera English has been streamed live for free from its own website, from youtube.com/Aljazeera and from Livestation.com for some time. But since the start of major protests in Egypt, Al Jazeera English has announced that a live feed of its service would be available to Roku box owners and that it would stream live on Dailymotion.com, the world's second largest video site.
"Interest in Al Jazeera has been quite high," noted Brian Jaquet, a Roku company spokesman said in an email. "We saw customers were finding it on our box through a somewhat convoluted way and by placing it in Newscaster we made it simple for our customers" to access it.
Roku also offers a number of other international channels and Jaquet says they are looking to add more. "You'll see more news from us on that front in the weeks to come," he said.
Live video usage spiked at CNN.com over the six day period from Friday Jan. 28 to Wednesday Feb. 2. On Friday, CNN.com saw some 325,000 daily video starts, a 510% jump above the prior four-week, same-day average, and by Wednesday, live video usage had spiked to 600,000 live views, a 540% gain over the prior four-week average. For the entire six-day period, the average live video usage was 800% higher than the average daily usage for the prior four-week period.
Total global video usage at CNN.com also jumped, growing from over 5 million video views on January 28th to over 6.3 million video views on February 2nd. The 3.7 million average video views over the six day period was 57% higher than the average daily usage in the preceding four weeks.
More viewers were also buying mobile apps to access the coverage from the Middle East, with average daily downloads of the CNN iPhone app running 20% higher than the four week average.
Mobile video usage was also up, with video usage on the CNN iPhone app running about 85% higher, with an average of 100,000 video views a day since January 28th.
Al Jazeera saw its web traffic increase by some 2,500% on Jan. 28, even before the most dramatic escalation of the situation. About half that traffic has been coming from the U.S.
Similarly, recently increased traffic numbers can be found at the Livestation.com, which offers free streaming access to many international 24 hour news networks, including Al Jazeera, the French-government backed France 24, the Russian government funded RT, China's international English-language news channel CCTV9 and the Iranian government owned Press TV.
The site also offers access via iPhone, iPad and Playstation3 to international networks.
On Jan. 31, Livestation founder Matteo Berlucchi reported on its web site that it has seen a 1,000% increase in traffic as "millions of people turn online to find out about the latest developments in the Middle East." In January, the users streamed about 28 million videos at Livestation.com.
Berlucchi notes in another blog on Jan. 30, that he'd had a conversation several years ago with friends about the value of "live TV in a world where ‘time-shifting' and ‘on-demand' seemed the only sure future for video consumption....The latest events in Tunisia and Egypt are the most striking demonstration of the crucial importance of being able to deliver linear TV to internet connected devices."
On Jan. 31, Dailymotion announced it would carry Livestation's feeds of Al Jazeera and many other international networks available at dailymotion.com/livestation.
What this will mean for the network's hopes of getting more traditional multichannel distribution is open to question as the widespread availability of free streaming services could either build interest among operators or discourage them from carrying a channel that is already widely available online for free.
Currently, Dish has a variety of Arabic language packages that includes the Al Arabiya news net and Al Jazeera's Arabic language channel, with the cheapest bundle priced at $29.99 for nine Arabic language channels above and beyond the basic Dish TV package.
Al Jazeera English is also available on Globecast's WorldTV satellite TV service but it has very little cable coverage.
AJE has no direct deals with Comcast, Time Warner, Cox, though some operators carry stations that have Al Jazeera programming. Currently, Burlington Cable in Vermont and Buckeye CableSystem in Toledo, Ohio are the only two cable operators to have direct deals with Al Jazeera.
In 2009, the not-for-profit broadcaster MHz Networks began offering the full Al Jazeera English channel on MHz Networks 5 in the Washington, DC metro area. That channel is available via the over-the-air digital broadcast channel 30.5, and on Comcast 275, Cox 474 and Verizon FiOS 457 in the D.C. area.
The company also airs blocks of Al Jazeera programming on MHz Worldview, which is carried on broadcast stations and cable affiliates reaching about 35 million homes in the U.S. Since the start of the crisis, MHz Worldview has increased the amount of Al Jazeera English programming from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. ET, with additional programming from 2 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. ET and from 7 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. ET.
MHz also offers a variety of on demand international programming that is available on Roku.
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