Al Jazeera's banking that its newest project—an English-language children's channel—will help it get on the air in the all-important North American and Asian markets. The new English-language Al Jazeera Children's Channel is scheduled to launch by the end of 2012. Content will be a mix of syndicated shows from other sources and original programming, dubbed into English, from the already existing Arabic-language Al Jazeera Children's Channel. Fast Company recently reported on Al Jazeera's ongoing talks with Comcast and Time Warner.
So will the good left-leaning parents of Park Slope and Ann Arbor be able to offer their kids a cable channel of impeccable global newsie cred? According to an interview in Abu Dhabi's The National newspaper with Al Jazeera Children's general manager Mahmoud Bouneb, American airtime is in the cards:
"We have an ambition to create an international feed for JCC that will benefit other markets, [such as] Asia and North America […] We are thinking probably by the end of 2012 because it takes a long time to prepare and to penetrate the market … we have so many requests from Asian countries to bring Al Jazeera [Children's Channel] in Arabic and to be dubbed in English […] It is essential our international feed will cover North America. I don't think we will face the issues related to the distribution of Al Jazeera (English News)."
The already-existing Arabic-language Al Jazeera Children Channel has been on the air since 2005. Al Jazeera Children's programming is aimed at seven- to 15-year-olds; sister network Baraem TV airs programming directed at pre-schoolers.
Al Jazeera Children's takes a distinctively high-minded approach to children's programming; nearly all programs share the same "edutainment" values found on PBS and the BBC.
However, some of the programming differs considerably from what might be found on those broadcasters. Saladin is a children's cartoon about the Crusades, told from the perspective of the legendary Muslim warrior.
Still Alive in Gaza is a documentary about the lives of Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip.
The Qu'ran Recitation Contest pits child contestants from around the Muslim world together to recite the Muslim holy book from memory.
Other programming aired on the channel includes more familiar turf for Western reviewers, including an admirable amount of children's oriented science programming.
Al Jazeera Children's is currently a free television channel viewable in the Middle East and Europe on the Badr 3, Nilesat, and Hotbired satellites.
In the world of children's television programming, one thing is for sure: Al Jazeera Children's has the best test pattern in the business. Seriously, just watch it.