Discovery Communications has always had its eye on green, ever since founder John Hendricks chose Planet Earth as a logo to represent the media giant. Now Discovery is ready to roll out Planet Green, rebranding its Discovery Home Channel as the first 24-hour TV network devoted to the green lifestyle. From eco-architecture to organic cooking, Discovery Planet Green, set to debut early next year, aims to “educate, entertain and enable” viewers to embrace the green life, says Discovery’s Eileen O’Neill, president and general manager of Planet Green.
The multiplatform global effort includes a $50 million investment in new original content. Discovery acquired well-known green blog TreeHugger.com as a complement to Planet Green’s own Web site, which will debut by the end of the year. Discovery also has begun new original programming for the mobile platform, and will launch video-on-demand offerings prior to the new channel’s debut. Planet Green is expected to reach the 18 to 49 crowd, with an emphasis on college-age youth, young families and baby boomers.
Walking the talk, Discovery also is in the process of greening its Silver Spring, Md., global headquarters. It’s planning a Planet Green conference to showcase “the latest inventions and innovative technologies” and to bring together leading scientists, business leaders and conservationists for open dialogue on ways to protect the environment.
Ms. O’Neill, who was executive vice president and general manager of Discovery Health Channel before taking the helm of Planet Green, talked with TelevisionWeek correspondent Debra Kaufman about the Planet Green initiative.
TelevisionWeek: What was the impetus for the creation of the Planet Green initiative?
Eileen O’Neill: There wasn’t a magical moment of turning green. We’re a company that’s been in the green space for over 22 years with our programming, methodologies, logo. There have been seminal moments in the last 18 months, whether it’s Tom Brokaw’s No. 1 special on global warming, Al Gore’s documentary or the horrendous weather we’ve had. All those things lined up, as well as all aspects of the marketplace, where corporations to consumers started awakening to green.
Our CEO David Zaslav saw an opportunity from a media perspective to address the needs of consumers who are awakening to greenness. He boldly put us out there to harness all the power of Discovery Communications behind the green initiative, which is expressed as the content on channels and media platforms across all Discovery brands. In addition to that, we committed to the launch of the fully dedicated channel. Planet Green is the brand that encompasses the greenness of Discovery Communications and is a dedicated channel.
TVWeek: What went into rebranding Discovery Home Channel as Planet Green?
Ms. O’Neill: A lot of hard work. There are a lot of things that we needed to figure out. First, we needed to create a vision that’s supported by responses from advertisers, consumers and a board of advisers we’re in the process of assembling. After creating that vision, then we obviously need to fill a content pipeline. Third, it’s really important in this space to be able to deliver on multiple platforms. The way people think about green and experience green is really diverse. In order to really rebrand and relaunch as Planet Green, we needed to have both a TV platform and a Web site because of the scope of the space and what it means to consumers.
Our demographic is going to be between 18 and 49, and it is those media-savvy, social-responsibility millennials who are already engaged in the Internet as a resource. It makes a lot of sense to have a Web platform available.
TVWeek: Tell us about the content we’ll see on Planet Green.
Ms. O’Neill: Our first initiative will be an eight-hour continuous schedule, which will be hot and fun. You will see content that is across the spectrum of experts in the green area for homes, cars, technology and innovation. You’ll see celebrities that are associated with those respective categories. We’re really programming this network as TV that is green. That means it’ll have a high entertainment value with a strong message. We’ll use great programming techniques to deliver to that audience.
We haven’t released the titles of our programs yet, just the categories. Science/engineering and transportation will be more male-skewing. For home, eco-fashion and food, we’ll have the “rock stars” within the green category and the more mass community as well. It’s aimed at that group of consumers, 60 million of us, who are awakening to green and contemplating attitude or activity changes. They need more information and inspiration to activate in a way that is helpful to our planet. Our messaging is about being better, not perfect. If we’re all just a little bit better, we can make a big difference. It will have a point of view and a message that there are things we can do to make sure the planet is protected.
TVWeek: I know $50 million was earmarked for original programming. How many original programs are in development?
Ms. O’Neill: That’s across the Planet Green initiative. For 2008, there will be between 300 and 400 original hours. In addition, we obviously have the resources of the Discovery Communications portfolio. The “Ten Ways to Save the Planet,” an original series that will debut on the Discovery Channel in third-quarter 2008, is a perfect example of that. The series will be impactful science, premiere on Discovery and have the opportunity to be an “encore premiere” for Planet Green. There will be programming from Animal Planet, for example, and a number of hit series on the other channels—such as “Dirty Jobs” and “American Chopper”—will have “green” episodes and have an encore presentation on Planet Green.
TVWeek: How many shows are in production?
Ms. O’Neill: Roughly in the 80-hour range now. We have Discovery Studios and they’re doing a couple of series for us, and a number of domestic and international producers are involved with the channel. There’s been a great outpouring of production company interest in Planet Green, not just because of the messaging but also the diversity of the content areas. Producers can pitch a green machine show [or] a cooking show; the diversity in the content is appealing to producers.
TVWeek: Tell us about the multiplatform aspect of the Planet Green initiative.
Ms. O’Neill: We’re really excited about the acquisition of TreeHugger.com, which does 1.5 million uniques. We were warmly embraced by their community. The strength of TreeHugger.com is in their strong community, strong news, a strong point of view, which really speaks to an audience that’s ready to be active in the green space.
The Planet Green Web site will launch preceding the channel. We want to move quickly into the space because there is great information and resources available that consumers are interested in. And it can be a promotional platform.
TreeHugger will act as a great third leg between the TV component and the Planet Green Web site that will be more utilitarian in information, in the sense of the shows and also from a build-out of the content area. All three need to feed each other effectively, in cross-pollinating content and viewers and community. In terms of having content available that’s synergistic, we want to make sure our audience/viewers move across all three.
Our mobile team has already been in production for a couple of months ahead of us in terms of creating good green information pieces, especially in the area of technology, with mobile shows “Go Green!” and “Green Gadgets.” VOD will likely lead ahead of the launch of the channel, which will allow us to have previews and actionable information that is in-depth for our consumers.
TVWeek: Are you partnering with any of the major environmental groups?
Ms. O’Neill: We absolutely are, but we haven’t released those names. We’re talking to a lot of groups, but there’s nothing official yet that we’ve announced. It’s important to us and consistent to how Discovery has approached quality information, to align with the experts. We look to replicate the strong partnerships of Planet Earth that Discovery is known for. The Ocean Conservancy has been a partner with Discovery Channel for Shark Week, for example.
TVWeek: Can you release any of the names on your new advisory board?
Ms. O’Neill: We will have a lot to announce, but we’re still putting this board together. One name I can mention is explorer and wilderness educator Josh Bernstein, who will lead a scientific exploration for us once a year to the earth’s most endangered locations, to raise awareness about the planet’s plight.
We can’t say yet where his first trip will be to.
TVWeek: Planet Green is described as being global. What is the global component?
Ms. O’Neill: We have a number of networks around the world. They will have a Planet Green presence starting at different times in the next six months, whether it’s specials or a dedicated time slot. But the [Discovery Communications Inc.] commitment is global.
TVWeek: What is your relationship with the Society of Environmental Journalists?
Ms. O’Neill: We will be working with them. They’re an important audience for us, since they’re the journalists that cover the landscape. In fact, we’ve worked with many of these journalists for years since we’ve done so many things in this area. It’ll be a continuation of that relationship.
TVWeek: What about the politics of going green? Is the “climate” more receptive to issues such as global warming now?
Ms. O’Neill: Happily, there is an openness to the green message, without a doubt. You can see that in people’s responses to virtually every magazine that’s had a green issue. There is a receptiveness that hasn’t been out there.
The bad news is that a lot hasn’t changed in terms of actual concern for climate change.
Our content is designed to appeal on an individual basis to what things can make a difference in our individual lives. To have a Planet Green channel makes a big statement. We’ll give them the information to make a difference in their lives and those of their families and communities. How consumers use that information is up to them.
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