Al Jazeera launches digital channel AJ+ in bid to woo younger viewers
Qatar-based Al Jazeera Media Network expanded its English-language news offerings today with the launch of a new project and mobile app that streams videos created specifically for an online audience.
The new current affairs channel, AJ+, produces brief and fast-paced video packages on topics such as human rights, global warming and violence against women, project spokesperson Fox Deatry told Doha News.
During its soft launch over the past few months, the most popular videos that AJ+ has posted on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube included explainers about Israel’s recent bombing campaign in Gaza, a package on US weapons purchases and a piece on the myths about feminism.
The style and delivery of the videos is aimed to attract the 18- to 34-year-old market, Deatry said. This is different than the audience that makes up Al Jazeera’s Doha-based television channels, which attract an older crowd (25 to 55 years old), he added.
While AJ+ is currently headquartered in San Francisco, the venture is expected to soon start hiring employees to work in Doha.
Like most of the Qatar-funded network’s endeavors, AJ+ has a big budget, likely in the millions of dollars.
Deatry declined to comment on actual figures, saying only that “Al Jazeera is not putting any cap on this – they understand that the future of news is digital …There is no price tag for innovating news.”
There is no immediately apparent revenue stream for AJ+, which hosts its content on all major social media sites, and is making a big push for its newly developed mobile app.
Deatry said that the channel would carry no advertising, which is what most news organizations in the US typically rely on to make money.
“If you’re based on advertising, you’re going to be running ads and banners which we believe disrupts the user experience,” Deatry said.
In a statement, Dr. Yaser Bishr, Al Jazeera Media Network’s executive director of Strategy and Development, elaborated on the company’s new digital focus:
“Storytelling in the 21st century has become a one-way medium compared to what it was: an engaging experience. AJ+ encourages millennials to engage in conversations, build communities and challenge everything they see and hear.”
The traditional TV network’s shift in priorities toward a greater focus on digital media comes as another US-based venture struggles with viewership.
Al Jazeera America
The launch of AJ+ comes a year after the network started Al Jazeera America (AJAM).
While that channel has garnered several awards and has been praised for the quality of its journalism, it has failed to attract large audiences.
The Associated Press recently reported that the channel is averaging 17,000 nightly prime-time viewers so far this year, according to Nielsen ratings. That’s compared to CNN’s average of 453,000 and Fox News Channel’s 1.87 million nightly viewers in the same period.
For its part, AJAM said it is still growing and working to increase its distribution so more American homes have access to the channel.
AJ+ proponents, meanwhile, say they’re going after an audience that’s less likely to tune into any traditional network for their news.
Speaking to Doha News, William Youmans, who wrote a dissertation on Al Jazeera English and is now an assistant professor at the George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs, said:
“AJ+is going to be a fun experiment to watch. It’s trying to be ahead of the curve by appealing to next generation news consumers. It’s betting big on current trends and it could prove to be a pioneer, but the risk is it gets too far ahead of its time and falls flat.
Overall, it’s an important venture since the borders of journalism are being pushed and blurred.”
Editor’s note: Doha News co-founder and publisher Omar Chatriwala is consulting for AJ+. He was not involved in the preparation or publication of this report.