Planet Green Lays Advertising Roots

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Planet Green has collected some advertising green.

Just how much Discovery Communications ad sales officials aren’t saying, but the eco-friendly service is set to bow June 4 with 11 advertisers in tow.

General Motors, which has auto category exclusivity on the network and SC Johnson, the only air care marketer on the service, are Planet Green’s top sponsors, according to Discovery Networks U.S. ad sales president Joe Abruzzese

Through the middle of last week, the others that will be on board at launch: Bosch Appliances, Home Depot, Frito Lay, Waste Management, Johnson & Johnson, Dow Chemical, Whirlpool, Clorox, and Wachovia Bank.

Abruzzese believes the programmer is “catching the right wave” as it prepares for launch.

“It was David Zaslav’s charge to get out in front of the trend,” he said. “When we first announced the network [during Discovery’s 2007 upfront presentation to advertisers] there were some limited green initiatives. Since then, many more companies have moved toward green initiatives and messaging and determined their campaigns and what [media] they want to align themselves with.”

Said Planet Green vice president and national sales manager James Levitt: “We were early in the game. As companies were looking to determine their messaging, we were able to work with them in some respects, to function in a consultative role over the past year.”

Many advertisers now have dedicated green creative. Discovery also set up Discovery Studios, a full-service production division that can integrate content with commercial messaging, to help in that regard. GM will tap that resource for short-form content integration rolling out in the months ahead.

Speaking of short-form fare, Planet Green will also air 90 seconds to 2:30 minutes worth of “did you know” vignettes hourly. Advertisers can affix themselves to segments that include factoids, fact or fiction, Q&As and general environmental updates.

Both Discovery sales executives talked about the importance of letting clients know Planet Green won’t be preachy. “This is going to be fun, entertaining and a lifestyle network,” said Levitt. Added Abruzzese: “It’s not necessarily about being green, but being greener.”

At least two media buyers are bullish about Discovery's latest network, calling it a “fresh” niche nearly as unassailable as mom and apple pie.

“No one can stand against this issue. It's not just global warming they are talking about, but down to personal recycling. No one can say you should boycott the programming because they are trying to save the Earth,” said Aaron Cohen, executive vice  president, chief media negotiations officer for Horizon Media.

He feels Discovery has defined green in a way that can carry its programming concept into different directions, making the network concept broad within the niche.

But in a TV buying world where everyone is so focused on pure ratings numbers, Planet Green will have to re-focus buyers on the quality of its audience, not just the quantity, said Craig Woerz, managing partner of Media Storm LLC.

“Niche networks do not get enough credit for the heavy lifting they do against ‘light’ viewers of TV or harder-to-reach affluent viewers,” he said, adding, “They also many times do not value themselves highly enough in the ad market and hence live and die by the numbers.”

But the “intrigue” around green is good now and viewer sampling is paramount, he said. Buyers said, given Discovery's history as a marketer, they were confident the network will drive that sampling.

But is Planet Green, as a programming concept, sustainable long term?

“It's sustainable for the near future. Whether it's on the front burner for the rest of our lives is another thing,” Cohen said.

Abruzzese maintains Planet Green is a long-term option. “Others have Earth Day programming, or are involved with green a couple of times a year. This is sustainable programming and we’re in the market every day.”

Two other green players: commercial-free Sundance Channel and NBC Universal., With co-founder Robert Redford leading the way, Sundance has been running a three-hour "The Green" strand Tuesdays at 9 p.m. since April 2007; it is currently sponsored by CitiSmithBarney and Lexus Hybrid Living.

NBC Universal, meanwhile, has held a pair of Green Weeks, one last November and another around Earth Day this spring, that involved 30 and 42 of the company’s varied business units, respectively. Collectively, those initiatives, which are scheduled again for next November and April, drew some 20 national advertisers and generated eight figures in ad revenue, according to sources familiar with the project.

Moreover, the Green Is Universal initiative, headed by Lauren Zalaznick, president NBC Universal Women and Lifestyle Entertainment Networks, is being pitched as its own category during the programmer’s upfront, according to an NBCU spokeswoman

Abruzzese declined to discuss sell-through level, labeling inventory load “a work in progress,” leavened by Planet Green being “a big part” of Discovery’s upfront, both on its own and as part of overall buys with the programmer.

Spadework was laid through more than 100 presentations in a 100-day period, he said.

Planetgreen.discovery.com and TreeHugger.com—the eco site Discovery bought last August for a reported $10 million—will have their own set of advertisers, as well as sponsors that will appear on both, Discovery says. 

Thus far, Caterpillar, Wal-Mart Stores and Proctor & Gamble will have an online-only presence with Planet Green, while GM and SC Johnson’s sponsorship manifest both online and on-air.

Levitt said Planet Green is buttressing its Web site with additional content centering around the talent from the network’s shows. “There has been a lot of content development for the fan sites, including video that is sponsorable both pre- and post-roll,” he said.  

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