Discovery Communications is re-branding yet another of its digital channels, turning its ecology and environment-themed Planet Green into Destination America, a broadly-focused network that will celebrate the people, places, and stories of the United States.
I spoke to Destination America president and general manager Henry Schleiff about the strategy behind Planet Green’s re-brand and what Destination America will offer viewers and advertisers when it launches on Memorial Day. An edited version of the interview appears below.
Tom Umstead: If you had to define Destination America in a sentence or two, what would you say?
Henry Schleiff: It’s essentially a network that highlights the unifying theme of our love for our country. That theme is told through stories based around that common idea, whether it’s through biographies of American heroes or villains; stories of travel throughout America; reflections on our love of food; and the respect that we have when we see the wonders of our national parks. So I think in a sentence this is the first network to really celebrate the people, places and stories of the United States.
TU: Why did you feel it was necessary to re-brand Planet Green?
HS: It was essentially looking at what Discovery Communications does best – to really create broad, mass appeal networks like Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, TLC and even [Investigation Discovery]. If you looked at Planet Green it had a more narrow, targeted appeal. It’s not that it wasn’t working – it was profitable and had a very healthy margin – but it was never going to grow into the kind of big league network that Discovery is really known for.
TU: If Planet Green had too narrow a focus, wouldn’t Destination America have too broad a focus?
HS: I think this has unbelievable potential in a favorable way for broad mass appeal, not only from a viewer’s perspective but by definition from an advertiser perspective. It’s definitely going to be far more inclusive than Planet Green was.
TU: Given the current election season, will the network feature any political-themed programming?
HS: It’s not a political thing – this is not a network that’s meant to appeal to only a red state or a blue state. It’s to appeal to a `united’ states – it’s meant to be inclusive. There’s so many things that divide this country and you can certainly start at politics along with race and religion, but one thing that unites us in this country is our love for this country. We obviously have our differences, and what we read most of the times in the press — whether it’s electronic, print or the internet — are stories that are negative and that divide us. I think this network is somewhat distinctive in its focus on the unifying theme of what we find great about being in America.
TU: Will Destination America assume all of Planet Green’s subscribers?
HS: Yes, it will launch with 60 million subs. It really is an extension of and renaming of Planet Green. We’ll look at the network’s library and take some of the programming that was working, as well as the libraries of other Discovery networks, along with a significant investment in original programming and put it all under this renamed umbrella of Destination America.
TU: Is there anything else you want to emphasize regarding Destination America?
HS: When we were developing the network we looked at certain themes, and one of the things that jumped out at us was the number of successful shows both currently and throughout television history that have that patina of America associated it. Through shows like American Idol, American Pickers, America’s Got Talent, Good Morning America and historically, American Bandstand, America’s Funniest Home Videos and America’s Most Wanted, you do really see that there’s something about that America theme that pervades the most successful programming. So the idea of putting these themes under one umbrella and telling compelling stories I think is really good. Also, I believe the time for this network is good … the idea of telling uplifting stories of the American dream actually being realized is a good moment for us. I love the concept of Planet Green now turning red, white and blue.