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Past. Present. Future?

It might be the glum face of Richard Nixon on the cover, or the memories of a muttering G. Gordon Liddy it invokes, but as the holidays approach I again find myself filling the role of Spanish Inquisitor....
December 1, 2000

It might be the glum face of Richard Nixon on the cover, or the memories of a muttering G. Gordon Liddy it invokes, but as the holidays approach I again find myself filling the role of Spanish Inquisitor.

In this issue, we focus on the historical market and where it’s going. While dedicated history services are carving out broadcast niches in many major markets – what’s past is profit to butcher an over-used axiom – most program buyers are lamenting the abundance of the tried and trusted formats that come with the territory.

‘Can’t we get programming that will attract younger viewers? Can we keep the tanks and heavy weapons off the air long enough to keep female viewers from switching off? What about game shows…?’

Basically: ‘Can we expand the niche beyond its traditional demographic, in order to up ratings and bring new influences (advertiser money/marketing dollars) to the table?’

In our report, a few programmers say it’s time to stop focussing on things like human conflict and European history. Most suggest it’s time to rethink our programming approach (thus game shows) – time to pull history away from the lecture format.

Right now, I am the poster boy for my demographic: a 30-something male; manic reader of almost nothing but history, war and politics; empowered with disposable income untapped by spouse or offspring… I am one of the primary audiences for historical programming.

So, here’s my question: how many viewers like me are you going to turn off by trying to get non-traditional viewers to turn on? Game shows are an idea (although I wouldn’t watch them…), but how far can you push against the confines of the genre before you begin to erode the demographic base that got you where you are? What’s the next extrapolation after game shows?

It isn’t a value judgement, just an observation. Every aspect of history should be fair game for producers. New approaches should be found. Non-traditional history programs – programs that strain against the conventional – will bring new stories to the screen and may attract new viewers, but it might also pull the channels away from their traditional support base. What happens if you go too far down that road and find that new viewers didn’t follow you?

Once again, I’m happy to be the one who just asks the questions, and not the one who has to answer them. Will challenging tradition work for these broadcast outlets?

Only history will decide.

About The Author
Selina Chignall joins the realscreen team as a staff writer. Prior to working with rs, she covered lobbying activity at Hill Times Publishing. She also spent a year covering the Hill as a journalist with iPolitics. Her beat focused on youth, education, democratic reform, innovation and infrastructure. She holds a Master of Arts in Journalism from Western University and a Honours Bachelor of Arts from the University of Toronto.

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