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Al Jazeera widens reach, eyes US cable deals PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 16 May 2008

Reuters, New York - The Al Jazeera Network has signed agreements with cable and satellite television operators that will bring its English and Arabic channels to more than 160 million homes worldwide, the TV news network plans to announce on Thursday.

Al Jazeera, arguably the dominant news service for the Arabic-speaking world, also is negotiating with a number of U.S. cable companies to try to expand its reach inside United States.

"It isn't distributed widely in the United States," Tony Burman, who was named managing director of Al Jazeera's English-language service on Wednesday, said in an interview.

"But there are a lot of efforts under way now to change that ... I'm told that there's real optimism that nuts will be cracked soon."

Al Jazeera's Arabic channel is currently available in the United States through the DISH Network.

Burman previously was editor-in-chief and executive director of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp, and left that position in July 2007.

One of his chief aims is to increase the networks' North American reach, he said. Some of that will mean beefing up the network's coverage in the United States, he added.

"There's a curiosity about what's going on within the democratic process in the United States that really needs to be satisfied," Burman said.

Based in Doha, Qatar, Al Jazeera is a worldwide independent news network that competes with services like the BBC and CNN, but has never made much headway in the United States.

In recent years, it was the target of criticism by the US government, particularly after the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. It also has aroused US and Middle Eastern government ire for its coverage of the war in Iraq and providing a platform for opposition and human rights groups.

Al Jazeera's new partnerships include one with France Telecom and agreements with operators in the Baltic States, Portugal and Hungary.

In Asia, Al Jazeera English now broadcasts on Vietnam's VTC, and it has new partnerships with SingTel in Singapore and in Hong Kong with PCCW's nowTV and Hong Kong Cable. It also signed agreements in the Philippines in recent weeks.

The new distribution announcements come a day before the network, based in Doha, Qatar, marks the 18-month anniversary of its English-language service, which now reaches more than 110 million homes around the world. The Arabic service, which launched 11 years ago, reaches more than 50 million homes.

Al Jazeera also said it is building up its Internet presence. Its English channels on the YouTube video sharing site recorded more than 21 million video views during its first year of operation, the company said in a statement.

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