New Analysis of History Channel Viewer Data Finds Pseudohistory Viewers Follow Fake History Across the Dial
The smart TV data largely confirms what the Nielsen ratings report, that the History Channel is one of the top 20 most-watched channels and that about one in four Americans watches the network at some point each month. About 1.37% of all time spent watching television in America is spent watching the History Channel, and Inscape found that its highest levels of viewership occur in the Appalachian Mountains, the empty parts of upstate New York and New England, the upper peninsula of Michigan, the Florida panhandle, and the outer edges of the Mississippi watershed—the most rural and conservative parts of the country. By contrast, the network’s lowest viewership levels occur in and around major cities, especially the Washington-New York-Boston megalopolis, Chicago, Los Angeles, and even Texas’s largest cities. In short, where young and liberal people live, History isn’t watched as much. No wonder the media, largely based in these large cities ignore the channel, even though its viewership is often many orders of magnitude greater than the current TMZ cause célèbre.
History Channel viewers watch two other channels more than any other: The Science Channel and the American Heroes Channel, both of which show History-style pseudo-history documentaries about aliens, treasure, Templar conspiracies, and the like. History viewers are more likely than other TV viewers to watch channels devoted to country music, hunting, home repair, and cars. I needn’t point out what that means. The constellation of related traits is obvious. It goes without saying that Inscape found that History Channel viewers are disproportionate fans of Fox News programming, and this extends even beyond viewers of History’s fake history shows. Inscape studied viewers for the much-hyped “serious” History series Grant, about U.S. president Ulysses S. Grant. It found that Grant viewers were largely also viewers of Curse of Oak Island, Ancient Aliens, and Fox News. In other words, Grant serves more to give History cover for its fake history shows than to expand its audience beyond conspiracy theorists.
But here is what I found fascinating: When looking beyond Grant to see what regular History viewers watch on other channels besides History, Inscape discovered data to support what I concluded from anecdotal evidence: The audience for History watches all the other History-style history-themed “mystery” shows. The top programs History viewers watch on other channels are Expedition Unknown, Outback Opal Hunters, Forbidden History, Unearthed, and Curse of the Bermuda Triangle. In other words, my intuition that there is one audience, totaling about 1.5 million people, that circulate through the constellation of fake history shows actually has analytical data to support it. The Venn diagram of viewers for various pseudo-history, ancient mysteries, and treasure-hunting shows is almost a set of perfectly concentric circles of diminishing size.
On the financial side, I was surprised to learn that the reason Ancient Aliens remains on the air despite its declining ratings is because it delivers more commercial messages to more people than any History show except American Pickers. Ancient Aliens served up 4.1 billion ad impressions (the number of commercials multiplied by the number of viewers who don’t turn the channel), accounting for 11% of History’s total by itself. (Pickers, at 8.1 billion, represents 21.4%, while Curse of Oak Island had only 7.5%.)
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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