Discovery Channel Bets On Making Green With Planet Green

Planet Green
Planet Green

Discovery is going where no company has gone before, betting that green programming will mean big green for its bottom line.

Tomorrow Discovery launches Planet Green, replacing its home network with the first 24/7 network dedicated to environmentally-friendly programming.

The new buzz word is "eco-tainment" and the company that gave us the highly-rated "Planet Earth" series is betting it'll be in high demand. Discovery Holdings --which is relaunching in the third quarter as Discovery Communications--is spending $100 million on 250-plus hours of original programming. DISCA stock is up five percent year-to-date, far outperforming the Dow, as investors see cable programming as a growth area, especially compared to stagnant broadcast growth.

Discovery has snagged some big names who are passionate about the environment to produce and star in shows: Emeril Lagasse, rocker Tommy Lee, rapper Ludacris, Leonardo DiCaprio. Instead of serious scientific analysis of environmental problems, the channel is taking a softer approach, entertaining, or showing consumers how to cook and remodel their homes with an environmentally-friendly approach. The channel is reaping the benefit of the fact that the environment is a favorite cause among the high-profile folks in Hollywood that draw big viewers.

Planet Green is also cashing in on the fact that big companies want to be associated with an eco-friendly message. General Motors is a lead advertiser and partner for "branded entertainment." Chevy is a sponsor of Leo DiCaprio's documentary series called "Greensburg," while GM cars are integrated into some programs and Discovery produces some short videos about the company.

Looking at GM's news today, I have to wonder about the thought process to pony up for this kind of advertising investment. Competing with Toyota's hybrids must be really important for the beleaguered American automaker. It's not just cars, Waste Management , Clorox, and Whirlpool are also jumping on board.

Having these big brands is clearly a big boon for the new channel, but mastering branded entertainment without annoying viewers is a challenge. Planet Green wants to attract advertisers that have an eco-friendly approach. The question now is: can branded entertainment work when the channel is combining an auto giant and a green message?

Questions? Comments?