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'Planet' Set Spinning

Discovery Starts Brand-Building Push, Plans First Major Affiliate Campaigns 8/10/2007 08:00:00 PM Eastern

From specials to primetime blocks, many networks are incorporating green programming into their lineups. But Discovery Communications has gone even further: Next winter, the Discovery Home channel will be relaunched as Planet Green, a 24/7 green brand.

Planet Green will feature a programming slate devoted to all aspects of the green lifestyle, from celebrities' environmental efforts, to the debate about prioritizing organic versus local food, to green design, architecture and engineering.

“It's an exciting marketplace right now for green, so this is a great time to be launching,” said Planet Green president Eileen O'Neill.

Indeed, according to the Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability Organization, consumers spend $6.5 billion on “sustainable economy” and $83.8 billion on “eco-lifestyles” each year. “But with Fox launching a business channel and Court TV rebranding, there are a lot of changes out there, so we know we have to be very inventive.”

The first step, of course, was finding a name. O'Neill said Discovery did plenty of research and even “naming exercises” with an outside company. The word green, she said, “is a fun word, associated with 'go' and 'growth,'” but she acknowledged that some suggestions came across as “too cute and too clever. It can be annoying in its cleverness.” The globe, DCI's logo, was an iconic image and needed to be incorporated — hence the word planet, and the green globe.

“There were a lot of alternatives but once we thought of this one it became crystal clear that it was right,” she said.

O'Neill said the channel needs to establish itself as “entertaining, educating and enabling,” adding “this brand needs to show it can make a difference, that's why it exists.”

The brand-building has begun well in advance of the network's debut. Discovery Communications' annual traveling Animal Planet Expo — which reaches 300,000 with stops in various cities including Boston, Houston to Seattle — has been expanded to include a Planet Green presence, encouraging people to recycle cell phones, batteries and printer cartridges. The channel will also have a presence at other green festivals this fall and will launch a big consumer campaign for the end of the year, O'Neill said.

“It's important to get consumers excited about the network even before its there,” said Michael Snyder, Discovery Communications senior vice president of affiliate marketing.

Time for Lime

Of course, Planet Green is not the first attempt at a purely green cable brand. Lime TV beat Planet Green to the small screen, with a very similar brand, although one with a broader scope. Lime's slogan is “Healthy Living With a Twist,” and founder and CEO CJ Kettler argues that a green message of renewal and growth can refer to people, as well as the planet.

Lime even went through a similar process to come up with its name. “We deliberately did not want to be branded in a crunchy, hardcore way but in the way green is becoming more mainstream,” said Kettler. The name was a response in part to the notion that committed environmentalists are considered “dark green” and are thought by mainstream America to be elitist and overly gloomy. “Lime is a lighter shade of green and is an upbeat word, so it symbolizes an optimistic and inclusive approach,” Kettler said.

But Lime failed to achieve distribution, getting stuck at 6 million homes, and so this year it killed the cable network to focus on its broadband, satellite radio, mobile and VOD platforms. “It was not worth the expense for a small independent,” Kettler said, especially because Lime's research showed that the greener someone is, the less time they spend watching television, preferring more interactive media like the Internet.

Last week, Lime was acquired by “green living” media and e-commerce company Gaiam. The network will be incorporated into a new site, Gaia.com, to be launched this fall.

Designed for Multimedia

O'Neill knows that to some extent Kettler is right and television can't achieve the third part of Planet Green's mission, “enabling” viewers to take action; so it is not building a TV-only brand. “You can entertain and educate pretty well on TV, but you need non-TV platforms to make the enabling happen so Planet Green is being designed to go multimedia in a robust way,” said Claire Alexander, Discovery's vice president of digital strategy and implementation.

To that end, Discovery Aug. 1 purchased eco-lifestyle Web site Treehugger. The site is destined to become the online arm of the Planet Green initiative.

Rallying Affiliates

Planet Green, of course, will not have the same carriage issues as Lime. Discovery Communications president and CEO David Zaslav said the channel will launch in 50 million homes and will grow by 40% in three years. Crucial to gaining that carriage is the channel's brand-building efforts with its affiliates, Snyder said.

Fortunately, Snyder said, affiliates are also looking to go green — on their own and at the encouragement from the cable operators' corporate offices. “We're going to provide an easy way to activate their subscriber base,” he said. “We'll be sending a Planet Green toolkit so even a very small system can make high quality PSAs just by getting someone in front of camera and doing minor editing. They'll have the look and feel that will link them to larger Planet Green initiatives.”

The network will also launch its first major affiliate campaign this October, helping operators drive customers to online paperless billing by framing it as a green initiative. Typically, paperless billing, which saves operators money, is touted for its convenience.

Even though Planet Green will not have debuted yet, Snyder will provide a fully customized TV spot featuring talent from the network along with radio spots and on-hold phone messages. The campaigns will be customized to drive consumers to the operator's Web site if they want or to promote sweepstakes with a green-themed prize or to provide donations to a green cause of the affiliate's choosing.

Based on feedback from the affiliates, Synder also hopes to produce customized spots thanking consumers, specifying that their cable company had signed up X amount of people and saved X amount of trees. It's a lot of effort, Snyder said, but “it's a real opportunity to showcase the Planet Green brand.”

According to Snyder, by next year the Animal Planet Expo will have an even greater Planet Green presence, one that also allows local affiliates to showcase their green initiatives.

For the long term, Snyder wants to create a Planet Green Seal of Approval for affiliates, allowing them to use it to give credibility to those efforts. “It's a significant opportunity for them and for us,” he said.

One of Planet Green's best opportunities for promotion and branding rests, obviously, on Discovery's other well-established channels. But the company's unique approach to this — to have the other networks develop their own green programming that will then wear the Planet Green brand — also makes this the “biggest branding challenge,” said Jeff Boortz, president of branding and promotion consultancy Concrete Pictures.

For instance, if Discovery's smash hit Planet Earth were debuting next year, it would have the green globe of Planet Green, even though that type of programming would not fit on Planet Green, being outside its brand.

Discovery's next major special, 10 Ways to Save the Planet, will indeed be co-branded with Planet Green, although that more tip-oriented special will likely eventually rerun on Planet Green.

“There are a lot of opportunities and a lot of challenges around that,” said O'Neill. “We have to collaborate on schedules and we have to make sure audiences and advertisers can go a lot of different places with the little green globe, but we have to make sure the brand is clear.”

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