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Behemoths beware? New channels declare war on ESPN, Fox News

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 21 2013 12:35 p.m. MDT

Ehab Al Shihabi, interim CEO for Al-Jazeera America, listens during an interview overlooking the newsroom, after the network's first broadcast on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013 in New York. The Qatar-based Al-Jazeera Media Network launched its U.S. outlet only eight months after announcing the new venture, which on Tuesday replaced Al Gore's Current TV in more than 45 million TV homes.

Bebeto Matthews, Associated Press

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The new television channels Fox Sports 1 and Al Jazeera America both launched recently with great expectations and big financial backing. And if everything goes according to plan, the two channels could cut down on the inane and uncivil babbling that permeates successful networks like ESPN and Fox News.

Fox Sports 1 debuted Saturday. Its flagship shows includes an eclectic roundtable discussion hosted by Regis Philbin called “Crowd Goes Wild” and the daily highlights show “Fox Sports Live.” The channel is branding itself as more moderate and mature than ESPN, which has long been the gold standard in around-the-clock sports programming.

“ESPN catches grief, sometimes from Fox, for its monotonous devotion to the likes of Tim Tebow and for hosting overheated, juvenile debates,” Ira Boudway wrote Wednesday for Bloomberg Businessweek. “Fox Sports 1 has positioned itself as the antidote, the place for gentler, more jovial sports conversation. … The trouble with zigging when ESPN zags is that the network has spent nearly 35 years learning from and training its audience. Its conventions, however obnoxious, are there for a reason.”

When Al Jazeera America launched Tuesday, its first programming was an hour-long taped introduction. Per USA Today, “The introduction tape flashed video promos of Hillary Clinton and Sen. John McCain lauding Al Jazeera's coverage and mocked Fox News with a clip of talking heads shouting on ‘The O'Reilly Factor.’”

Owned by the oil-rich Qatar government, Al Jazeera America can credibly disparage the ubiquitous huff-and-puffery of shows like “The O’Reilly Factor” because the new network aspires to carve out a reputation as a hard-hitting news organization.

The New York Times’ Brian Stelter reported Monday, “Fourteen hours of straight news every day. Hard-hitting documentaries. Correspondents in oft-overlooked corners of the country. And fewer commercials than any other news channel. It sounds like something a journalism professor would imagine. … Al Jazeera representatives say proprietary research supports their assertions that American viewers want a PBS-like news channel 24 hours a day.

"Originally the new channel was going to have an international bent; now its overseers emphasize how much American news it will cover and how many domestic bureaus it will have, which some see as an effort to appease skeptics.”

Email: jaskar@desnews.com

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