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!
3/4/2013 04:55:45 am
I'm bothered by the "Viking" thing they have rolling out soon. I hear them mentioning a big voyage. I have a feeling that its gonna be a retelling of the Vinland saga conformed to fit America Unearth.
3/4/2013 10:42:02 am
They wouldn't do that with the miniseries, I don't think, since they expect it to be a prestige piece with wide mainstream appeal.
3/4/2013 11:45:57 am
They are going to march right across Minnesota and plant the KR in episode 5.... get ready for it!
3/6/2013 06:35:44 am
LOL Matt! But no, that probably will happen.
3/4/2013 06:30:28 am
Maybe we'll see Scott Wolter turning up artifacts in the pawn shop, or maybe the American Pickers will call him in to pore over the contents of someone's outhouse. On the way, he'll break down and one of History's celebrity tow-truck drivers will help out (or am I getting confused with another channel here? Much of cable TV looks the same to me). You can see where this is going to end, and it won't end well.
3/4/2013 06:53:35 am
Let's say the head of H2 programming emailed you and said they were willing to give you a trial season of 12, 1h shows dealing with whatever you wanted as long as it deals with history and targets the lucrative 18-50 male demographic. What would you propose?
3/4/2013 10:43:58 am
I don't have a problem with exploring ancient mysteries as the concept for a series. I have a problem with the dishonest way H2's series look at those ancient mysteries. It makes the old A&E "Ancient Mysteries" series and the syndicated "In Search of..." (1980s version) seem positively scholarly by comparison. Nonfiction programs pretending to be documentaries have an ethical obligation to play fair with the facts.
3/4/2013 09:40:10 am
3/4/2013 10:48:18 am
Thank you so much for writing and sharing your story. It's one that is sadly all too common. You do remind me of the very important point that education in one area does not mean that one is knowledgeable about other areas, and in fact being educated in one area can paradoxically lead people to become more susceptible to misinformation in other areas. I know, for example, that I have precious little understanding of the more theoretical aspects of high-end physics, and I'm sure that a TV program pretending to present cosmology could probably slip in some wacky claims and I wouldn't know the difference. As you note, that's why it is so important that broadcasters follow basic ethical standards in presenting information fairly.
3/4/2013 01:13:54 pm
I remember the days when the History Channel was essentially the WWII channel.
3/4/2013 01:45:18 pm
Re: The Vikings, check out this discussion thread for a few thoughts...
3/4/2013 03:56:34 pm
Thank you, Jonathan.
3/4/2013 03:40:26 pm
3/4/2013 04:09:15 pm
Thank you, Christopher, for the tip.
3/4/2013 03:50:28 pm
I wonder if anything would change if somebody sued them for fraud or complained to the FCC about their representing fiction as fact?
3/4/2013 06:30:40 pm
The FCC is only concerned when someone swears, talks about poop (other than Oprah), or has a wardrobe malfunction on the air, so unless the company that supplies their Indiana Jones costumes starts cutting costs by using inferior zippers I doubt the FCC will ever get involved.
3/4/2013 10:57:56 pm
The FCC does not have jurisdiction over cable TV, which does not use public airwaves.
3/5/2013 06:53:20 am
Ancient Aliens only needs to file the paperwork, then they can be protected under religious freedoms as well...
3/5/2013 07:00:22 am
That is correct. There is no legal restriction on cable TV content, except for obscenity and libel. All of the restrictions on cable content are self-imposed industry standards, largely modeled on broadcast TV. Many cable channels are owned by conglomerates with broadcast networks, so they follow similar standards to avoid calling down the wrath of the FCC on their broadcast divisions--and, of course, to avoid offending viewers who might turn the channel.
3/5/2013 01:11:48 am
Admen - is there anything they can't do?
9/18/2014 03:39:20 am
My bf looks at H2 TV a lot, he tells me stuff like there is life or was life on mars and that God is the creator of all planets. He doesn't believe in Jesus but believed in God. I just want to prove that this show does not display factual information that really happened. I don't do a lot of research other than my college work. So can someone provide me a site where I can show proof to him that information shown is for entertaining purposes
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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