History Channel Reads Some Good Nielsen Books


The History Channel doesn't look very much like A&E's offspring these days. It's not quite like at Discovery Networks, where TLC has overtaken flagship Discovery Channel in ratings, but, at A&E Television Networks, History is the growing business.

Six years ago, A&E Television Networks President and CEO Nick Davatzes recalls, he predicted that History would someday be as robust in ratings and reach as A&E. The network is surprisingly close to surpassing that.

History is on a rating tear. Its prime time Nielsen marks for May jumped 30% to a 0.9, nipping the heels of A&E, which recorded a 1.1 average for the same month. A recent two-part special Russia: Land of the Tsars
earned a 3.0 rating over two nights, a channel record. Russia was one of the last projects of former executive vice president and general manager Abbe Raven, who greenlighted it before moving up to head A&E.

Now Dan Davids, who once headed History but more recently had Raven's job running A&E, is back at the History Channel (no one at AETN will say it, but it smelled like a demotion at the time) with a mandate from Davatzes to ratchet up promotion and marketing.

History has swelled to 83 million subscribers, according to Nielsen Media Universe estimates for June. It was launched in 1995 with leftover A&E programming. "If we didn't cannibalize ourselves—History was a big part of A&E—we knew someone else would," Davatzes said.

History still shares a library with A&E and can program fairly cheaply. The net spent about $120 million on programming last year, half of A&E's expenditures, according to Kagan World Media. Many of its documentaries cost $150,000. Davatzes estimates that AETN produces about 90% of its networks' documentary fare, allowing the company to hold onto distribution and home-video rights.

History's consistent demo composition—about 70% of its viewers are male—makes it a favorite with media buyers, who are always seeking an alternative to pricey ESPN for reaching male viewers. History's 49.7 median age has come down slightly in the last year.

"History is a solid male buy. [AETN] has not lost the direction with that network," notes Tom DeCabia, executive vice president of media buyer PHD.

History has moved to make its programming a little more contemporary and a little less WWII. Davids' first new slate keeps that direction. The net is adding four series, including Extreme History With Roger Daltrey, hosted by The Who frontman Daltrey, which re-creates some of history's most harrowing scenarios, and Tactical to Practical, showing how many everyday items have military roots.

The network is also reorganizing prime time into seven vertical theme nights, such as "Tech Tuesdays" and "Heavy Metal Fridays," which will feature military history.

Davatzes couldn't be more pleased with the growth: "History is now a world-class brand. Men constantly talk about the History Channel."