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The Coming Smackdown Over International News

In the coming war for the hearts and minds of international news junkies, the BBC Worldservice just launched a pre-emptive strike. This week it announced that it has hired BBDO New York to handle the advertising promoting its new 24 hour news channel scheduled to launch at the end of this month. The channel will be available to Cablevision subscribers in the New York market.

In the coming war for the hearts and minds of international news junkies, the BBC Worldservice just launched a pre-emptive strike.

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This week it announced that it has hired BBDO New York to handle the advertising promoting its new 24 hour news channel scheduled to launch at the end of this month. The channel will be available to Cablevision subscribers in the New York market.

That can’t be good news for Al Jazeera International, which had hoped to launch its own 24 hour English language news channel at the end of May, but is struggling to find a US distributor willing to take on the controversial brand.

On one level, the channel’s problem is not unique: US cable distributors have little space for new entrants, so finding a home is tough whether you’re Al Gore or Al Jazeera. Additionally, the channel wants to be able to stream simultaneously over the Internet, a proposition which doesn’t seem to bother folks in other countries, but is a sticking point in the US. Then, of course, there’s the channel’s Arabic pedigree, and the dicey issue in the States of offering a channel whose sibling has a reputation of being Osama’s favorite news outlet.

Finally, there’s a more fundamental issue: do Americans have an appetite for interntional news, or do they just want to know the latest on Tomkat’s baby, or the Duke lacrosse team? Whatever their poltical persuasions, cable operators agree on one thing: they want their offerings to make money. If that’s all poker, all the time, fine. If it’s international news, that’s cool too. As long as it’s green, it’s keen.

But Americans haven’t been known for their thirst for news from Sao Paolo or Sri Lanka.

Still, the BBC thinks there’s a market here. Seema Kotecha, BBC World’s head of marketing, said: “Our research shows that there’s an increasing demand from US viewers for an international news agenda and our unique news service will offer them an impartial, global perspective on world events.”

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Do you think that’s true, or is that wishful thinking on the part of news providers, whether they’re British, Arabic, or American?

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About the author

Linda Tischler writes about the intersection of design and business for Fast Company.

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