Ahead of cable channel launch, Al Jazeera starts blocking videos on YouTube

When violence erupted in Cairo this week, Al Jazeera once again became the go-to source for on-the-ground news coverage. The network streamed live from Egypt’s capital, and uploaded dozens of videos to its YouTube channel. However, U.S. visitors to the site found themselves turned away, with an error message on YouTube (s GOOG) telling them that “the upload has not made this video available in your country.”

The blocking, which began on Thursday, is part of a concession that Al Jazeera made to get pay TV operators to carry its new Al Jazeera America network, which is scheduled to launch next Tuesday. With the launch, Al Jazeera will also start to block U.S. viewers from accessing its international live stream. Al Jazeera had previously said that it was going to disable access to the live stream, but many viewers will likely be surprised by this extending to news clips on YouTube as well – especially because these clips have been a big reason that people are intrigued with Al Jazeera’s take on TV news in the first place.

Al Jazeera tried for a number of years to get U.S. cable companies to carry its Al Jazeera English station. The big pay TV operators refused, in part because they didn’t want to be associated with what Bush administration officials essentially had branded an enemy network. That’s why Al Jazeera took to the internet instead, streaming its program live online around the clock and uploading both news clips and entire shows to its YouTube channel, which to date features more than 41,000 videos.

That strategy paid off when the Arab spring started to disrupt the Middle East in late 2010 and early 2011, with Al Jazeera correspondents reporting live from crucial hotspots in Cairo and elsewhere while U.S. networks like CNN failed to grasp the importance of the story.

Thanks to its live stream and coverage on YouTube, Al Jazeera quickly became a household name with anyone trying to figure out what was happening in the Middle East, and its online traffic skyrocketed.

It’s somewhat ironic that Al Jazeera is forced to shut off access to these outlets just as the world’s attention is once again focused in Cairo — especially since not every pay TV operator is going to carry Al Jazeera America when it launches in a few days.

I’ve asked an Al Jazeera America spokesperson about the network’s plans for its own coverage on YouTube, but have yet to hear back.