By Allison J. Waldman
At Discovery Communication’s Planet Green network, it’s all about evolution.
“We’re in the midst of a reformation,” said Planet Green President and General Manager Laura Michalchyshyn, who has been leading the channel’s development since she came on board five months ago. “There’s a generation now, the millennials, that walk, sleep and eat environmental issues. We need to stay ahead of the curve by being proactive.”
When Planet Green launched in June 2008 with the mission of the greening of America and the world, the goal was programming that promoted an eco-friendly lifestyle.
“We’re broadening the scope from just saying we’re an eco-lifestyle channel,” Michalchyshyn said. “This is going beyond the use of the word green. It’s really about sustainability.”
There’s a lot of new programming in the works at Planet Green, including 10 shows in development.
“In July we announced a number of series and specials, moving away from the do-it-yourself, how-to genre and moving it into provocative narrative and storytelling,” said Michalchyshyn. “There are enough shows on competing networks that cover how-to. We want to be more about inspiring and more aspirational.”
She also said the goal is to make Planet Green programming “accessible, mainstream, action-oriented, measurable and exciting.”
Michalchyshyn said, “Those words, I think, weren’t completely embraced when we first launched. This is now conscious-living TV, being aware of how we’re making decisions and how our decisions have an impact on the planet and our future.
“The strategy is a shifting-gears strategy. We have shows that include everything from ‘Planet Mechanics’ to ‘Cool Fuel’ that are oriented toward cars, ‘Gadget Geeks’ and shows for people who are interested how new technologies are changing the way we think of transportation and the vehicles we drive,” she said.
Planet Green’s brand definition has changed along with its programming.
“We’ve been calling ourselves a 24/7 eco-lifestyle channel, but now we’re saying that this channel is about people and our impact on this planet and how we interact with the planet,” said Michalchyshyn. “It’s about people making a positive change. Green is a fact, but sustainability is forever. We’re moving our definition to the sustainability camp and looking at people and characters and a great narrative in terms of the kind of programming on our air.”
In reforming Planet Green Michalchyshyn has been learning who the typical viewer is. “We’re learning that this is an engaged audience. Our audiences are interested and curious; they tend to be a little bit more sophisticated. These are avid learners,” she said. “We’re skewing slightly more female than male. Our demographic age is 42.”
The Planet Green viewer is also active across multiple platforms, especially PlanetGreen.com and Treehugger.com.
“We’ve seen a growth year on year that’s quite extraordinary. Our growth in our Web traffic is one of the ways that we’re [able to tell] the activity for the linear net is increasing,” she said. “Our audience tends to be on all platforms at all times.
“Another huge focus for us is making sure our social media strategy, our Web strategy, is about delivering content that is unique and customized for the digital age.”
One goal that Planet Green has espoused over the past few months is becoming an entertaining, multiplatform deliverer of that kind of content.
“The network has got to be entertaining to our audience. The channel is only a success if it’s entertaining,” said Michalchyshyn. “We’re bringing in a whole new slate of programming, introducing new series and specials and a documentary block.”
The documentary block is a weekly premiere of classic and high-profile films such as “An Inconvenient Truth” and “Who Killed the Electric Car?”
“Every Saturday night we present a feature-length or a one-hour documentary that is exclusive to Planet Green. The majority will be premieres to U.S. television,” she said. “We started with ‘The Last Beekeeper,’ which Jeremy Simmons directed and World of Wonder produced. It traveled the film festival circuit, but never had a broadcast premiere.”
More than any other show on Planet Green, the series “Living With Ed” captures the balance of entertainment and information that Michalchyshyn talks about. It’s the network’s signature show.
“Ed Begley Jr. is the real deal. This is a guy who rides his bike all around L.A. He’s one of the earliest Prius owners, and he’s a character,” she said. “He’s been an environmentalist and a community activist for over 20 years, and we’re evolving that show. We’re going to see Ed and his wife, Rachelle, beyond the home and the do-it-yourself. We’re going to look at Ed’s involvement in the community and the kind of activities he’s doing on the road. So we want to broaden the scope of the show.”
Like Begley, chef Emeril LaGasse is a Planet Green star. “Emeril has such a way with engaging audiences, and he’s got such a personality. He’s done three different kinds of specials for us,” said Michalchyshyn. “He just finished shooting a special in Napa Valley, which will air at the end of October, and he’s looking at organic wines, late fall harvest, foods that are sourced in Northern California. We’re all about getting Emeril out of the kitchen and interacting with the farmers, the makers of cheese, the vintners. It’s about more than cooking.”