Who Is Al Jazeera's Audience? Deconstructing the Demographics and Psychographics of an Arab Satellite News Network

By Philip Auter, Mohamed M. Arafa, and Khaled Al-Jaber

I. Introduction:

As time passes and the Middle East remains on the forefront of world events, Al Jazeera and its competitors - other Arab satellite news services - are becoming more well known and perhaps understood by audiences, governments, and scholars. But as they are relatively new media offerings, neither identical to Western news outlets nor bearing much resemblance to traditional state-run Arab media, one might ask: "Just who is the audience for these services? What are their beliefs and values?" Little research has been done to identify the characteristics of the Arab satellite news service audiences. This study takes a step in that direction by providing some demographic and psychographic breakdowns of the Al Jazeera audience in an attempt to define and describe this group of over 45 million individuals.

II. Research Questions and Methodology:

This study attempted to answer two research questions: Who is watching Al Jazeera and how much time are they spending with the network? The Al Jazeera audience will be described via the following demographic characteristics: age, gender, marital status, education, and household income. The psychographic variables "religion/life philosophy" were also studied.
An online survey was utilized to gather responses by viewers of Al Jazeera TV around the world. For a two-week period (August 20, 2002 to September 4, 2002), an Arabic survey was linked to Al Jazeera TV's companion website (www.Al Jazeera.net) with the network's permission. People who could read Arabic and chose to participate accessed the survey by clicking on a link on Al Jazeera's homepage. Usable responses were obtained from 5379 respondents from 137 countries around the world. The online survey was written in Arabic and consisted of mostly closed-ended quantitative questions. Items measured amount of time spent watching Al Jazeera TV and a variety of demographic and psychographic characteristics including age, education, and philosophy of life. Time spent watching Al Jazeera TV was determined from responses to two questions: amount of time spent watching Al Jazeera on the average weekday and amount of time spent watching Al Jazeera on the average Saturday or Sunday. Weekday scores were weighted by five and weekend scores by two. The results were summed and divided by seven to result in average daily viewing scores.

Number of Arab Respondents Living in Arab Nations

Country
Number of Respondents Living in Arab World
Percent of Total Sample
Algeria
124
2.3
Bahrain
107
2.0
Comoros
0
0.0
Djibouti
0
0.0
Egypt
238
4.4
Iraq
30
0.6
Jordan
304
5.7
Kuwait
151
2.8
Lebanon
94
1.7
Libya
103
1.9
Mauritania
58
1.1
Morocco
135
2.5
Oman
109
2.0
Palestinian Territories
206
3.8
Qatar
106
2.0
Saudi Arabia
1215
22.6
Somalia
2
0.0
Sudan
69
1.3
Syria
268
5.0
Tunisia
27
0.5
United Arab Emirates
356
6.6
Yemen
80
1.5
Total
3782
70.3

III. Findings:

Many respondents in the sample spent quite a large amount of time watching Al Jazeera TV - or at least leaving it on in the background while attending to other tasks. About one third of the participants average more than five hours a day of Al Jazeera TV viewing (n=2039, 37.9 percent). Sixteen percent of the respondents watch for about 4-5 hours daily (n=864), 13.3 percent (n=714) for 3-4 hours daily, and another 13.3 percent for 2-3 hours every day. Ten percent of the sample (n=541) watched the network for 1-2 hours a day and only 4 percent (n=215) watched for less than an hour. Only 5.4 percent (n=291) of the sample spent no time watching Al Jazeera TV on an average day.

Audience Age

Respondents ranged between 18 and over 65, with nearly half falling between 25 and 35 (n = 2378, 44.2 percent). The next largest group was between 18 and 24 years old (n= 1428, 26.5 percent). Respondents between 35 and 44 were the third largest group (n = 1151, 21.4 percent). The remaining participants were 45 and above (n = 422, 7.8 percent). While most viewers, based on age, watched between 3 and 4 hours of Al Jazeera on the average day, the group that clearly spent the most time watching Al Jazeera were viewers age 35-44, averaging an hour more daily (N = 1151). Respondents 65 and older, however, tended to view less on average, only 2 to 3 hours per day (N = 15).

Gender

Men (n=4948, 92 percent) far surpassed women (n=430, 8 percent) in this sample. Men and women seem to watch the same amount of Al Jazeera programming - between 3 and 4 hours daily.

Marital Status

Almost half of the sample reported that they were single and never married (n=2435, 45.3 percent) while most of the remaining respondents reported that they were married (n=2847, 52.9 percent). Only a few stated that they were widowed (n=82, 1.5 percent) or divorced (n=15, 0.3 percent). Again, most respondents viewed between 3 and 4 hours of Al Jazeera on the average day. However, widowed respondents appear to have viewed a bit more on average (N = 82, daily viewing = 4-5 hours)

Education

The majority of respondents had received a bachelors degree or its equivalent (n=2497, 46.4 percent) while 18.8 percent (n=1010) had obtained a Master's, Ph.D., J.D. or similar advanced degree. About one third of the sample (n=1595, 29.7 percent) had finished high school and possible some college. One hundred and eighty six respondents (3.4 percent) had received less than the equivalent of a high school degree. While most viewers watched 3-4 hours of Al Jazeera on average, those with limited education tended to watch about one hour more per day (less than or equal to a US high school degree: N = 969).

Household Income

The majority of the participants had an annual household income equivalent to less than $15,000 US dollars (n=1931, 35.9 percent) while another 30.4 percent (n=1633) made between $15,000 and $35,000 USD per year. Only 776 participants (14.4 percent) had no annual household income. One fifth of the sample had an annual household income over $35,000 USD (n=1039, 19.3 percent). Respondents in the middle of the range - with a household income of approximately $40,000 (US equivalent) tended to watch one hour more per day of Al Jazeera than did other viewers (N = 371).

Location

While three quarters of the audience polled live in the "Arab World," (N = 4782, or 70 percent), the total sample (N = 5379) hailed from 137 countries worldwide. (See Appendix.) The majority of people living in the Arab World that responded to the survey hailed from Saudi Arabia (22 percent of the total sample). The majority of those replying to the survey that were not living in the Arab World lived in the United States. Interestingly, in the Middle East, Qataris only represented 2 percent of the overall sample, while Saddam Hussein-controlled Iraq contributed 30 respondents.

Religion

The overwhelming majority of the sample was Muslim (n=5192, 96.5 percent), followed by a limited representation of Christians (n=130, 2.4 percent), Jewish (n=10, 0.2 percent), and other faiths and belief systems (n=46, 0.9 percent). Both Muslim and Christian respondents viewed 3-4 hours of Al Jazeera daily. Respondents with other religions watched about one hour less of Al Jazeera per day (N = 56).

Life Philosophy

Although self-ascribed life philosophy varied widely in the sample from extremely liberal (n=481, 8.9 percent) or liberal (n=942, 17.5 percent) to conservative (n=1044, 19.4 percent) and extremely conservative (n=218, 4.1percent), half of the sample, considered themselves to be moderate (n=2693, 50.1percent). Those who watched the most Al Jazeera programming (4-5 hours per day) consider themselves liberal or extremely liberal in their worldview (N = 1423).

IV. Discussion:

Clearly, the overwhelming number of viewers watch Al Jazeera for hours on end - or at least keep the network on in the background while doing other things - keeping it on for nearly half their waking hours. Middle-aged viewers spent the most time with the satellite news network, while elderly viewers watched the least, with widows spending slightly more time viewing than average.
Those with some, but only a little, education watched the most, and lower income individuals watched more than those who made more money. Muslims and Christians watched approximately the same amount of Al Jazeera, but Jews and viewers of other faiths watched quite a bit less. Interestingly, liberal viewers watched more Al Jazeera than did conservative viewers.
So what does this tell us about the Al Jazeera audience? First that it is certainly a pervasive group. The network's message reaches Muslims and Christians world-wide and viewers keep it on round the clock. Also, education and income are somewhat negatively related to viewing levels - generally speaking the less income a household makes, or the lower the income, the more Al Jazeera is viewed. This could be the result of several factors. First, households with less income - but enough to support satellite TV - may find Al Jazeera to be a relatively "inexpensive" method of keeping up with world events. Second, households where the respondent is of a high school educational level equivalent might rely more heavily on Al Jazeera solely as their news provider while more educated households look to many sources for their news
It is perhaps not surprising that Muslims strongly support the network, but not significantly more than Arabic-reading Christians. It is also expected that more liberal respondents rely more heavily on the network - which is diverse in the opinions it presents.
These summary findings offer but a glimpse into the world of the Al Jazeera audience. As global communities become more and more interrelated, and Middle Eastern issues become interwoven into world politics, free Arabic satellite news networks like Al Jazeera will become more and more important players in the global news business. TBS


Philip Auter is an assistant professor of communication at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Mohamed Arafa, the former chairman of the Department of Communications at the University of Qatar and an international media consultant, is currently the communications officer at the Georgia DOT. Khaled Al-Jaber is an employee of the Qatar Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Copyright 2004 Transnational Broadcasting Studies
TBS is published by the
Adham Center for Television Journalism, the American University in Cairo
E-mail: TBS@aucegypt.edu