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Planet Green Ready To Roll

5/31/2008 12:01 AM Eastern

Planet Green is starting to get some advertising green.

Despite doubts over an entire network devoted to what some skeptics call a fad, the first 24-hour eco-friendly network is set to bow June 4 with 11 advertisers in tow, including General Motors, SC Johnson, Bosch Appliances, Home Depot, Frito Lay, Waste Management, Johnson & Johnson, Dow Chemical, Whirlpool, Clorox and Wachovia Bank.

Planet Green’s success, said president and general manager Eileen O’Neill, will hinge largely on how well it can make a traditionally staid movement come alive without preaching to the audience.

“We really feel like we have the privilege and opportunity to create a new genre, so we’re not relying on the expectations or the tried and true green programming that’s been out there and has been effective in some of its earnestness and criticalness,” O’Neill said. “As a Discovery brand, we’re going to be very credible, but the entertainment value that will be on this network will be on a par with any entertainment-focused network out there.”

The network, a rebrand of the Discovery Home digital channel, will launch to 50 million viewers with more than 250 hours of original, green-oriented lifestyle programming — part of Discovery’s $50 million programming investment in the channel. With a roster of such well-known media personalities like chef Emeril Lagasse, Entourage star Adrian Grenier, rapper Ludacris and rock legend Tommy Lee starring in original Planet Green series, the network promises to spend more time entertaining viewers than sermonizing about the virtues of clean air and fluorescent lights.

THAT’S 'ECOTAINMENT’

While Discovery is the first company to launch a 24-hour channel devoted exclusively to the environment, it certainly isn’t alone in airing content on the topic. The neophyte network faces stiff competition. Sundance Channel (with its “The Green” weekly programming block), NBC Universal (“Green Is Universal” programming initiative) and sister network Discovery Channel (Planet Earth); and The Weather Channel (State of the Planet) have all aired environmentally conscious documentaries and miniseries, often to critical acclaim. Discovery’s 11-hour miniseries Planet Earth, which aired in 2007, drew a whopping 65 million viewers.

But while standalone, green-oriented specials and documentaries can work, some industry executives said a network devoted to green issues has a polar bear’s chance in Florida of making big profits. Katz Television Media Group vice president and director of programming Bill Carroll said he isn’t sure the momentum now propelling the green genre isn’t a temporary fad.

“Certainly right now, given the mood of this country, the ecology, the environment, the issue of global warming are all top of mind, but that could change,” Carroll said. “If [Discovery] is able to deal with it in an informative and entertaining way, there’s certainly the possibility of being successful.”

Discovery Networks U.S. ad sales president Joe Abruzzese believes the programmer is “catching the right wave” as it prepares for launch. “When we first announced the network [during Discovery’s 2007 upfront presentation to advertisers] there were some limited green initiatives,” he said. “Since then, many more companies have moved toward green initiatives and messaging and determined their campaigns and what [media] they want to align themselves with.”

Said Planet Green vice president and national sales manager Jamie Levitt: “We were early in the game. As companies were looking to determine their messaging, we were able to work with them in some respects, to function in a consultative role over the past year.”

Many advertisers now have dedicated creative departments to tap into consumers’ green preferences. Discovery also set up Discovery Studios, a full-service production division that can integrate content with commercial messaging. GM will tap that resource for short-form content integration rolling out in the months ahead. Planet Green will also air 90 seconds to 2:30 minutes worth of “did you know” vignettes each hour. Advertisers can affix themselves to segments that include factoids, fact or fiction, Q&As and general environmental updates.

Discovery sales executives talked about the importance of letting clients know Planet Green won’t be preachy. “This is going to be fun, entertaining and a lifestyle network,” said Levitt.

The service — which will initially repeat an eight-hour programming block throughout the day — will not rely on documentaries and news shows that are typical of green-targeted programming. Rather, it will offer reality series — dubbed “Ecotainment” shows, according to O’Neill — that aren’t far off from shows seen on cable entertainment services such as MTV and sister service Discovery.

Planet Green will debut an organic foods-tinged cooking show called Emeril Green, starring Lagasse, as well as Mean Green Machines, which pits the speed and performance of eco-friendly vehicles against their environmentally damaging counterparts. “We didn’t heavily invest initially in miniseries or one-offs because we want to build that consistent environment and get viewers to understand who we are and find programming that resonates with them,” said O’Neill.

While the network is targeting the 18-49 year old viewer, O’Neill said the its “sweet spot” is anyone interested in the green movement. Although Planet Green will not be Nielsen Media Research-rated at launch, O’Neill said the network is hoping to generate a 0.3 household rating in primetime — triple that of the Discovery Home’s anemic 0.1 rating.

“It’s an audience that’s more definable as a psychographic, meaning they’re people that are turned on by green or have the potential to be turned on by green because they may be a first-time parent, baby boomer or 20-something-year-old that wants to save and change the world,” she said. “We want to make certain we have something on the channel that people as diverse as I just described can relate to.”

At least two media buyers are bullish about Discovery’s latest network. “No one can stand against this issue. It’s not just global warming they are talking about, but down to personal recycling. No one can say you should boycott the programming because they are trying to save the Earth,” said Horizon Media executive vice president and chief media negotiations officer Aaron Cohen.

Discovery has defined green in a way that can carry its programming concept into different directions, he said, making the network concept broad within the niche.

Still, in an advertising world so focused on pure ratings numbers, Planet Green will have to refocus buyers on the quality of its audience, not just the quantity, said Media Storm managing partner Craig Woerz. “Niche networks do not get enough credit for the heavy lifting they do against 'light’ viewers of TV or harder-to-reach affluent viewers,” he said, adding, “They also many times do not value themselves highly enough in the ad market and hence live and die by the numbers.”

A GREEN WEB

While the network hopes to draw more mainstream viewers to its network with entertainment programming, it also intends to draw hard core greens to the brand through its broadband services, planetgreen.com and environmentally-oriented Treehugger.com, which Discovery purchased last August for $10 million. Treehugger.com offers numerous blogs, forums, news reports and surveys on everything environmental.

Levitt said Planet Green is buttressing its Web site with additional content, centered around talent from the network’s shows. “There has been a lot of content development for the fan sites, including video that is sponsorable both pre- and post-roll,” he said.

Just last week, Planetgreen.com and Treehugger.com partnered with left-leaning political news and opinion Web site The Huffington Post to create environmentally friendly content.

Planetgreen.com and Treehugger will contribute video content, video features, news items and interactive forums to The Huffington Post’s new HuffPost Green site, according to O’Neill.

Several blue-chip advertisers, including Caterpillar, Wal-Mart Stores and Procter & Gamble all have an online-only presence with Planet Green. GM, the exclusive auto advertiser on the network, and SC Johnson, the exclusive air-care advertiser, will have a presence on TV and online.

Meanwhile, Discovery has aggressively sought to create partnerships with other environmental-friendly companies such as The Nature Conservancy and its “Plant a Billion Trees” campaign to further ingratiate itself to environmentalists.

To increase the channel’s value to operators, Planet Green is offering a high-definition simulcast of the network’s programming, as well as a video-on-demand service offering as much as 20 hours of content per month.

O’Neill said the network will offer the HD and VOD packages as incentive to increase distribution of the channel, but she would not reveal what if any operators are carrying either the HD or VOD channel. “We’re starting from a good [subscriber] base, and as the growth of digital continues we’re optimistic that we’ll be [among the top distributed networks] in the next couple of years,” she said.

The network may also take advantage of its synergies with well-penetrated networks such as Discovery Channel and TLC to gain distribution. O’Neill would not comment on whether Discovery will include Planet Green in an overall Discovery Communications sales package.

No matter how widely the network is carried, though, advertisers will ultimately decide the fate of Discovery’s latest programming venture. Said Horizon Media’s Cohen: “It’s sustainable for the near future. Whether it’s on the front burner for the rest of our lives is another thing.”

But Discovery’s Abruzzese maintained that Planet Green is a long-term option in part because the environment is not the network’s largest focus — it’s the only focus. “Others have Earth Day programming, or are involved with green a couple of times a year. This is sustainable programming and we’re in the market every day.”

September