America Unearthed and Ancient Aliens run on H2, a network owned by History, itself part of A+E Networks, the parent of A&E and the Lifetime family of channels. A+E Networks told Ad Age magazine recently that it is positioning History and H2 as male-oriented channels designed as a masculine counterpart to the female-oriented Lifetime brand. According to A+E, History has become a “male mega-brand,” and adding H2 as a branded extension of History has been key to providing content for a wide variety of men.
But who, exactly, do they think there audience is? Here’s a hint: If you’re old, poor, or informed about the world, they don’t want you. H2’s head of programming, Paul Cabana, explained that H2 is targeted at men, but A+E’s president of ad sales, Mel Berning, was much blunter. He said that H2 is for young, rich men, and he implied that it was also for those rich younger adults who are not interested in current events.
“It’s such a good cut of audience, the upscale male,” Berning told Ad Age. “Male viewers watch a lot of sports, a lot of news, but news skews really old.” He told the magazine that H2 is therefore aimed at men who don’t watch news, don’t watch sports, and don’t watch broadcast television. Who that is, I’m not sure; apparently it isn’t me.
Studies have found that news consumers are in general more educated than those who are not interested in news and current events. News viewers on average graduated college at higher rates than viewers of non-news programming, though those who typically read news in newspapers graduated college at higher rates than any television viewers.
By targeting non-news viewers, it seems that H2 is attempting to select for a less educated audience, though I’m not sure how that would square with trying to attract affluent men. Since young adults are significantly less likely to read print publications than older adults, it would seem that H2 isn’t going for the more highly-educated readers of print publications who scorn cable news. It seems that their ideal view is young, wealthy, and a low-information consumer. Not coincidentally, this is also the ideal market for advertisers, who are interested in wealthy consumers who are willing to accept televised claims without solid evidence.
Here’s what disturbs me most about what H2 thinks it is doing. A+E is selling H2 to upscale advertisers as a home for “deep” content focused on factual “information”, as Ad Age reports:
“There’s a portion of our viewers that still want the deeper dive,” said Dirk Hoogstra, senior VP-development and programming at History and H2. “So we said ‘If they are out there looking for that information, let's give them a home.’”
Two things are frightening about that view. First, that the VP of History/H2 consigns “facts” to those things that only a mere “portion” of views “still” want. This implies that History feels that audiences are uninterested in factual information, which, while probably true, is very sad. Second, that he seriously thinks that America Unearthed, the H2 network’s first original series, represents “deep information.” This low-information program relies on wild speculation, superficial understandings of history, and long shots of people standing around looking at show host Scott Wolter’s backpack. It easily has less information per hour than the average half hour of In Search of… from thirty years ago. H2 plans to roll out a dozen new programs this year, many modeled (in form if not content) on America Unearthed.
But it gets worse. Thanks to the strength of Ancient Aliens and America Unearthed, H2 has now surpassed Science, Military, HLN, Nat Geo Wild, and Speed in total viewers in the adults 25-54 demographic. Remember, H2 is targeting young, upscale men, many of whom are likely to be opinion leaders in their social networks and in the broader community due to their socioeconomic position for years to come.
So what’s the harm? Well, this week Victor Lana, an author of literary fiction, wrote about how Ancient Aliens has left him facing nightly insomnia and deep anxiety about the way the program’s speculations have shaken his faith in evolution, humanity’s position in the universe, and the ability of humanity to propose new solutions to problems because the “aliens” had handed early humans all the answers, meaning humans are too dumb to save ourselves. He apparently genuinely worries that the aliens will return to destroy humanity for its sins. His article provides no suggestion that he sought information beyond the show.
This probably isn’t typical of Ancient Aliens viewers, but it is an example of the kind of harm done by presenting rank speculation as fact, especially to those who are less educated, less interested in “facts,” and less willing to turn to other sources (such as print) to discern whether the stories the TV spins are actually true.
Worse: A+E wants to renovate its other channels, like Lifetime Real Women, on the H2 model. I shudder to consider what they think young women are interested in!
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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