Egypt coverage gives Al Jazeera surge in U.S. viewers

Fri Feb 4, 2011 7:33pm EST
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By Christine Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Egyptian crisis may provide the Qatar-based satellite news channel Al Jazeera its best chance yet to capture a larger share of the U.S. audience.

Even the White House is tuning in, said Al Anstey, managing director of Al Jazeera's 4-year-old English-language service.

Much as CNN capitalized on its coverage of the 1990-91 Gulf War, Al Jazeera English has won praise for its on-the-spot reporting and context about the protests. It will be talking to U.S. cable operators about deals "in the coming days and weeks," Anstey said in a telephone interview from Qatar.

"Many people are switching us on in the United States for the first time, thereby increasing the pressure on the operators to actually put us out onto people's TVs," he said.

Al Jazeera, not carried in most U.S. cable and satellite television markets, has a reputation for being anti-American but has also come under fire from Arab states since its inception in 1996.

Egypt ordered Al Jazeera to shut down its operations there and Al Jazeera has had its signal cut. Its correspondents are barred from several Arab states and it has mesmerized Arab viewers who once had little choice but state TV.

Meanwhile, the channel has experienced a surge in its U.S. online audience. By Friday its website's live feed had been seen by 9.4 million viewers, Al Jazeera said. Of those, 3.5 million viewers were in the United States.

Lacking a major TV distribution deal in America, the channel has focused on web distribution.   Continued...