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Green Means $Green$ For Media Companies

Thiru Murugan

Earth Day isn't just about environmentalism, it's also about leveraging consumers interest in green to make some serious green. Envrionmentally-oriented programming is generally a double win for media companies: people are increasingly interested in nature (and respecting the world around them) and it's a great boost for corporate image.

Today Disney premieres "Earth,"the first film from the company's new documentary label, "Disneynature."

This new venture is designed to be low risk and high return. Each film Disneynature will release every Earth Day is expected to cost under $10 million, less than a tenth the cost of a typical Disney movie. And the film is produced by the people behind Discovery's hit "Planet Earth" series and uses some of the same footage. The Discovery show drew an average of five million viewers per episode and sold over 3 million DVDs in the US. If all the people who tuned into Discovery on Sunday nights turn up at theaters for the film, Disney will have a box office hit.

Plus, "Earth" is exactly the kind of film that could have legs, not just on DVD, but also across the company. If "Planet Earth" DVD sales are any indication, "Earth"'s DVD is likely to perform well as a collectible, both in the US and overseas. James Earl Jones is narrating this doc, but think how easy it is to dub in narration in other languages for a global release. Plus, the brand is easily franchisable. It's a natural fit with Disney's "Animal Kingdom" theme park in Florida, and I can already imagine the lunch boxes and stuffed animals. Disney's been greening its image for a while, and with this film it's putting its money where its mouth is, planting a tree for every ticket sold in the film's first week. Over 500,000 tickets have sold for the film so far - it's a lot of school groups turning out for the film, and a lot of trees!

A number of companies are capitalizing on "green."

Discovery Communications launched its "Planet Green" 24 hour network last June. Liberty Media's QVC is promoting "green" products with special Earth Day programming. And of course, Green is Universal. CNBC's parent, NBC is incorporating environmental themes into its programming all week. If going green is good for the environment as well as the bottom line, it's sure to become a year-round trend.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.