StoryScout 2024

Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Al Jazeera America Closes. Other Quality Channels That Folded

Al Jazeera America’s closure is a sad moment for the documentary community.

AJ’s documentary team led by Diana El-Osta and Cynthia Kane has supported quality films that are finding fewer slots elsewhere in the North American channels landscape.

In fact, we were working this week with AJA on a Case Study of an important documentary on Ebola from Antje Boemart and Docdays Productions, Berlin.


  • AJA’s 3Q 2015 average, quarterly primetime audience was only 20,000 viewers.
  • That compares with 1,542,000 for Fox News and 644,000 for CNN.
  • At that level of support, AJA’s closure was inevitable.

Lost Quality

I’m reminded of several failed cable channel ventures that aimed at providing a quality programming experience to U.S. viewers:

  • Al Gore’s Current was a bust.
  • The New York Times exited its co-venture with Discovery, which morphed into Crime-themed ID.
  • The Christian Science Monitor‘s news network almost ruined that once prosperous Boston-based church, losing hundreds and hundreds of millions.
  • And my first job at CBS involved picking up some of the pieces of the failed CBS Cable channel, said to be the initiative of the CBS founder’s wife to offer original programs on the Arts and Society for upscale audiences.


  • Thanks to the AJA documentary team for their very important contributions.
  • And I’ll miss AJA for its welcome, independent news coverage.


  1. Dear Peter,
    Just a little note to say that documentaries are still very much alive and well on the rest of the Al Jazeera Media Network.
    At Al Jazeera English we transmit hundreds of hours of award-winning documentaries each year. We have landmark strands like Witness, People & Power, 101 East, Correspondent, Al Jazeera World etc as well as hours of single films and specially commissioned documentary series. We commission, co-produce, acquire and produce a wide range of documentaries and have a huge global audience.
    Of course we will be very sad to say farewell to colleagues at AJAM Doc Unit, with whom we worked very closely. But we are committed to the extraordinary power of documentaries to bring the powerful human stories behind the news headlines to our viewers.
    Warm regards,

    Ingrid Falck
    Manager of Programs – Documentaries | Documentaries Department
    Programs Directorate
    Al Jazeera English Channel

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