This week Ancient Aliens moves to its new home on the H2 network, the History Channel sister station previously known as History International until September 2011. While show partisans attempted to make the most of the move, it clearly is not a step up for television’s most reductive history program. In fact, the move to H2 reveals a few essential truths about Ancient Aliens and the corporations that benefit from promoting the ancient astronaut theory.
First, History officials see Ancient Aliens and its audience as a commodity that can be exploited to further their financial interests. H2 averaged only 196,000 prime time viewers last year according to Broadcasting and Cable magazine, while the History Channel proper reaches a nightly audience ten times as large and is the third most-watched cable channel in the United States as of Feb. 5. Executives reasoned that if even a quarter of Ancient Aliens’ two or three million viewers go with it to H2, the network’s ratings will more than double, increasing exponentially what H2 can charge for commercial time.
Second, the powers that be at History can’t seriously believe in the ancient astronaut theory or they would want to ensure it had the widest possible audience. The obscure H2 station is not the widest possible audience, and their willingness to shed millions of viewers from Ancient Aliens to boost the fortunes of H2 speaks to this.
Of course, at the same time, History has also moved nearly all of its history-based programming to H2, leaving the main History Channel home to the more popular and profitable reality shows like Ice Road Truckers and American Pickers, so I suppose one could say that the network’s executives don’t really believe in history at all, except insofar as it can be used to make money. And that is the real take-home lesson of Ancient Aliens.
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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