Bloomberg Businessweek reports that Al Jazeera, the Qatar-controlled news network, will be emphasizing sports over news in the future.
According to the article, Al Jazeera has cut or relocated 200 staffers in its news operations and tightened budgets, while ditching plans to start a Swahili-language network for East Africa.
While the news budget has been cut, spending on sports has gone in the other direction:
Al Jazeera has spent nearly half a billion dollars on soccer rights in France so far, plus an undisclosed amount to broadcast in other markets. More deals may be on the way. England’s Premier League, home to popular teams like Manchester United, last week began taking bids for the U.S. rights to broadcast its games, and analysts expect Al Jazeera to bid. ‘The Qataris believe investing heavily in sports will give them a return on their global image,’ says Frank Dunne, the editor of TV Sports Markets.
That’s probably true, in the sense that sports programming has become a big business, with rights to major sporting events soaring over the last few years, bringing prestige and profits to networks like ESPN.
News operations are also very costly to set up and maintain, and generally don’t have the same profit potential as sports programming.
Another factor that may have contributed to the shift in strategy is the lack of success with its English language channel, which after nearly six years is available in just a few cities, a far cry from what was originally envisioned.
Then again they chose CNN as their model and look where they are today.