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Time Warner Cable Will Consider Carrying Al Jazeera's U.S. Network

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AL JAZEERA TIME WARNER CABLE
A general view shows the newsroom at the headquarters of the Qatar-based Al Jazeera satellite news channel in Doha Nov. 14, 2006. (Karim Jaafar/AFP/Getty Images) | AP

NEW YORK –- Time Warner Cable left the door open Thursday to the possibility of carrying Al Jazeera's new U.S.-based network, which is set to replace Current TV following Wednesday's acquisition.

"We are keeping an open mind and as the service develops, we will evaluate whether it makes sense, for our customers, to launch the network," Time Warner Cable said in a statement first reported by The New York Times.

So while Time Warner Cable considers carrying the new network, tentatively called Al Jazeera America, what about Al Jazeera English, the Qatar media company's existing English-language channel, which has struggled to gain distribution in the United States?

On Wednesday night, a Time Warner Cable spokesman told The Huffington Post that they already have "an agreement with AJE, though we have no plans to launch it at this time." The company clarified Thursday that it's "a long-term hunting license agreement," or rather, an option to launch AJE if the cable provider chooses.

"There is no agreement between Time Warner Cable and Al Jazeera English," an Al Jazeera spokeswoman said in a statement to The Huffington Post. "However, Al Jazeera English would be open to discussions."

Although Time Warner Cable and AJE don't have a deal, the cable company noted in a statement that "AJE is available for free online, and in NYC and LA, AJE is on the channel lineup as part of separate agreements between Al Jazeera and local broadcasters.”

Indeed, AJE partnered in August 2011 with a New York City regional network that occupies two slots. So ironically, even as Current was abruptly shut off, Time Warner Cable customers in New York City could watch Al Jazeera English Wednesday night by way of the RISE network (channel 92). "This channel is no longer available on Time Warner Cable," read an on-screen message on channel 103, home to Current in New York City.

Joel Hyatt, who co-founded Current TV with former Vice President Al Gore, told staff Wednesday in a memo that Time Warner Cable "did not consent to the sale to Al Jazeera."

"Consequently, Current will no longer be carried on TWC," Hyatt wrote. "This is unfortunate, but I am confident that Al Jazeera America will earn significant additional carriage in the months and years ahead."

Al Jazeera, which is owned by oil-rich Qatar, is reportedly spending $500 million to purchase Current, a deal made primarily for distribution to 40 million homes rather than for its stable of liberal hosts, one of whom, former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, has already announced her departure. Al Jazeera has its own vision for the U.S. network, along with plans to build a staff of over 300 in the country.

Following the Current deal, Al Jazeera now has carriage deals with distributors that consented to the acquisition, including Dish, DirecTV, Comcast, Verizon and AT&T. Time Warner Cable was carrying Current in about 9 million households. Al Jazeera and Time Warner Cable would have to hammer out a new deal for distribution to those households, perhaps for less than the 12 cents Current cost per subscriber.

Al Jazeera, which still grapples with negative perceptions that accompanied harsh criticism from Bush administration officials during the Iraq War, has struggled to convince cable distributors to carry AJE, even as it's won journalistic awards and high-profile praise from the likes of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Arizona Sen. John McCain for its coverage of the Arab Spring.

A Time Warner Cable spokesman wouldn't comment to The Huffington Post on Wednesday as to whether politics played a role in its decision to drop Current and, as a result, the forthcoming Al Jazeera channel. However, Time Warner Cable executives suggested Thursday to the Times that the decision wasn't political, but the result of Current's low ratings and the cable provider's ability to terminate the agreement upon change of ownership.

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