It's not easy being green, as Discovery Communications has discovered.
Planet Green, the eco-friendly channel that Discovery launched with much ballyhoo in 2008, turned out to not be as viewer-friendly as the company had hoped. Now, Discovery is planning to either revamp or completely replace the channel all together.
"We think we can probably do something else with that that would be more meaningful," Discovery chief executive David Zaslav told investors on a conference call Friday.
Zaslav's comments confirmed what many had been speculating: Now that Discovery has launched Oprah Winfrey's OWN network and its new kid-centric partnership with Hasbro, dubbed The Hub, Discovery can now turn its attention to some of its underperforming networks. Zaslav has already announced that Discovery's Fit TV will soon be renamed Discovery Fit and Health, taking in some elements of the former Discovery Health Channel (which morphed into OWN on Jan. 1).
Discovery also recently shuffled oversight for several of its channels, placing Planet Green under Henry Schleiff, who runs the company's Investigation Discovery channel. Investigation Discovery is cable's fastest-growing network in terms of audience growth and channel distribution, the company says, and Schleiff will now be tasked with rethinking Planet Green's focus.
"The channel just hasn't worked," says one insider. "Discovery had the best of intentions, tapping into the green trend and movement. It was a noble idea."
Some sources believe Planet Green lost its way after the channel's original boss, Eileen O'Neill, switched jobs at Discovery. (She helped turn around TLC and is now running both that channel and the Discovery Channel mother ship.) Others say the idea may have been a bit too narrow to begin with. There's an audience for eco-friendly programming, and channels like Sundance have produced programming blocks devoted to such fare. But to hinge an entire channel on such a movement may have ultimately not been enough to support an entire channel.
"I'm not too surprised (at the news)," says Horizon Media's Brad Adgate. "Discovery Communications has a tendency to re launch cable networks. Also perhaps Planet Green would have better as a programming block in a more broad-based cable network instead of a dedicated one."
Planet Green has already tried to evolve into a broader focus, moving from how-to programs into more storytelling with shows like The Fabulous Beekman Boys, which followed a gay New York couple as they attempted to start a farm in upstate New York. But the ratings, unfortunately, weren't there.
There's no shortage of ideas that Discovery could kick around to replace Planet Green. Discovery now has a track record of partnering with known brands (Oprah, Hasbro) for channels and could search for a new content partner. One such possibility: AEG, Ryan Seacrest and CAA, which made headlines last year when word emerged that the group was looking to launch a lifestyle network.
Also, even though Discovery just morphed its Fit TV and Health brands together, it might want to consider reviving Discovery Health as a standalone channel in the Planet Green spot. Discovery Health not only had its fans, but helped spawn hits like Jon and Kate Plus 8, which later moved to TLC.
Discovery could also revive its "Discovery Home" channel, which was replaced by Planet Green in 2008. Since then, TLC has moved further away from homestyle fare, leaving a void for such programming within the Discovery family. A revived Discovery Home could give Discovery a quick re-entry into the space dominated by Food Network and HGTV. Of course, if Discovery wanted to go more male-oriented, the company could turn Planet Green into Discovery Turbo, a channel geared toward men (with programming about cars, planes, bikes and more) and found in several international markets.
Planet Green is available in more than 60 million homes, which means it's too valuable a piece of real estate to let coast for too long. A Discovery spokesman says the company has "nothing to report" beyond Zaslav's comments.