The Stream: Al-Jazeera’s brave new multi-media experiment

On the 2nd of May, television broadcaster Al-Jazeera will make history with the broadcast of “The Stream”, a 30-minute talk show like no other. With “no script, no tape and no satellite hookups”, the Doha-based news broadcaster is “bringing the social media experience inside your TV”.

Most television shows follow the same model: They create their broadcast product and then build a website to complement the show as a secondary resource. But as the number of cord-cutters begins to reach a tipping point, the news network is trying something new: Business blog Fast Company defines The Stream as “a social storytelling service that powers the editorially curated content, which is complimented by community commenting before, during, and after the anchored news show.”

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Cord-cutters are people who have given up their TV and satellite subscriptions in favour of new, converged, internet-based content. They are growing fast and a very influential segment of the population for a channel to capture.

While the format of The Stream sounds intriguing and challenging, it’s a brave new direction for almost everyone involved. Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, the co-host of the show had this to say to Wired magazine: “I could sit here and pretend I know exactly what we’re going to do but the truth is I don’t, and that’s kind of the excitement.”

The show will rely heavily on Storify, the content curation platform that turns individual posts via social media into a compelling and easily understood storyline. reports that “the online community doubles as a self-selected focus group, alerting staff to editorial oversights and signaling new trends. The group could also illustrate which stories have gained traction with viewers and allow producers to focus more energy on the right stories.

This is just one of many new strategiest that Al-Jazeera is trying out as it makes its move into the United States. The news station has had an incredibly year, particularly in the wake of the “Arab Spring” where it emerged as the credible voice of the uprising. In recent weeks, Al-Jazeera has seen a massive 2 500% increase in web traffic.

The two co-hosts of The Stream, Shihab-Eldin and Derrick Ashong are both Americans and the show will be hosted in Washington D.C. With the weight of new media in the United States and a receptive culture of innovation, Al-Jazeera has made a strategic ploy to test the format with American audiences and to be first in line to define the next generation of news broadcasting. “More than anything, The Stream is a place to bring in fresh faces,” writes FastCompany. “Young, new media-savvy voices, such as Azita Ardakani of Love Social, are deliberately favored as contributors instead of older experts. Prominent activists and bloggers will be given a spotlight; insightful commenters will hold sway over the direction of news.”

It’s a brave, experimental strategy and signals the kind of approach that is helping Al-Jazeera build a new audience that no longer sees the boundaries between online and traditional content.

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