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A Network to Make an Environmental Point - 4 June 2008

CAN the environment make for entertaining TV? Discovery Communications is about to find out.

On Wednesday, Discovery will introduce Planet Green, a new cable brand promoted as the first 24-hour channel dedicated to eco-friendly living. It is the highest-profile cable channel introduction of the year, and an equally risky one. By wrapping itself in the planet, Discovery is betting that “eco-tainment” will appeal to viewers.

Planet Green will replace the Discovery Home Channel in more than 50 million homes. Eyeing the public’s increased interest in environmental issues, Discovery is confident that it can attract more viewers with green-themed programming.

“This is an eco-tainment channel,” said Eileen O’Neill, the general manager of Planet Green. “It’s a lifestyle and entertainment channel that’s designed to activate people in the green space.”

It is also intended to engage advertisers, many of whom have green-themed marketing messages to share with viewers.

“Green is a category companies want to be in,” said Gary Lico, the chief executive of CableU, an online service that analyzes cable networks. “Whether you’re an automaker or a bank or a petroleum company, somewhere in your marketing plan is something referring to the environment.”

But some of Planet Green’s advertisers could raise eyebrows. General Motors, maker of the Hummer, is the “exclusive automobile sponsor” of the channel, Discovery announced last month. G.M.’s Chevrolet brand is a “premier sponsor” of “Greensburg,” a documentary series about a tornado-damaged town that is rebuilding with an eye to the environment. As part of the deal, G.M. vehicles will be integrated into some programs, and Discovery will produce short-form videos about the company.

Ms. O’Neill said the company has “very thoughtful conversations” with any advertiser who shows an interest in the channel.

“We’re thinking about everyone being better — not necessarily perfect,” Ms. O’Neill said, noting that G.M. sells a number of vehicles that address fuel efficiency or feature hybrid technology.

David M. Zaslav, the chief executive of Discovery Communications, added: “If the standard is perfection, we’ll all fail. The journey is to do a little bit better.”

That attitude is in line with the channel’s mission, which is to “take green to the mainstream,” said Tom Carr, the senior vice president for marketing of the channel.

. . . click here to read the remainder of this article by Brian Stelter from the New York Times . . .