Last week when I blogged about CNN falling into fourth place in the cable news channel ratings, I became a victim of my blogging - I had to watch CNN and HLN to see why HLN might beat CNN in the 25-54 ratings.
Watching CNN was numbingly boring, but not painful to watch. HLN (formerly Headline News and CNN2), however, was painful to view for more than a half-hour news cycle. The daytime anchor, Richelle Carey, was as easy to watch as any carefully coiffed beauty on Fox News or Fox Business Network, and the graphics were easier on the eye and more in harmony with a news image than CNN's (although not quite as good overall as Fox News's graphics).
The problem was not the anchor or the graphics, but was with the story selection - the stories were all about crashes, rapes, murders, funerals, and disasters. The HLN stories offered a cornucopia of brief items with accompanying irrelevant, endlessly repeated video that would appeal to those who had the self-image of being a victim and wanted to watch stories of people suffering.
I remember reading a research study some years ago about why people like to read about or watch stories about disasters and crime. In addition to the fact the disasters usually create the opportunity for riveting video, people like to read or hear about them to feel good. They seem to say to themselves, "I'm glad that didn't happen to me. I could be worse off than I am."
Also, I think people who see themselves as victims like to have other victims as company. I suppose misery loves company. I suspect there is a deep need to reinforce their sense that they are victims and to confirm their persecution complex.
So I guess HLN has found its niche - victims.
The New York Times' story titled "CNN Finishes Last in TV News on Cable" indicated that HLN in had a monthly average of 221,000 people 25-54 watching versus CNN's 201,000. The reason the 25-54 numbers were touted is because that is the demographic preferred by advertisers, therefore the only viewers who matter.
So, of the 304 million people in the United States, I'm guessing there are about 25 million who are 25-54, which would mean that less than one percent of them watch the continuous victimization offerings of HLN. This is a small but obviously profitable niche for the Turner Broadcasting cable network (in turn owned by Time Warner).
HLN is profitable because there are marketers who target their advertising and promotion to people who feel like victims: Tax Masters goes after people who are victims of the income tax system, Humana Health Care goes after people who are victims of the health insurance system, Tylenol goes after people who are victims of old age, Long Island Hospital goes after victims of poor health, and Time Warner Cable, in its promotion spots, show people returning their Verizon phones, thus, they are victims of Verizon.
Thus, as a viewer, I couldn't get away from the victim pitch - in the stories, in the commercials, and in the promos. There were victims, victims everywhere on HLN.
There is now a niche for victims on HLN; for angry, uneducated white men on Fox News; for dummies on Fox Business Network; for angry liberals on MSNBC; for sports fans on ESPN; for women on Oxygen; and for alien-abduction fanatics and circus lovers on CNN.
In the long tail of cable networks, appealing to ever narrower niches seems to be the prevalent strategy. UPN anyone - the Ukulele Pick Network?