Green programming in bloom at MIPTV

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CANNES -- Environmental programming exploded onto the mainstream agenda at the opening of this year's MIPTV television market, with debate about the role of the television industry in campaigning for environmental change engaging programmers, distributors and broadcasters alike.

In recent years, debate at the Riviera-side program sales market has focused on changing distribution platforms and new mobile and broadband opportunities. But this year the extent to which concerns over global warming have spilled into mainstream entertainment was evident in the way panels, programming events, awards and program launches locked onto the role of the TV biz in growing environmental awareness.

"Until about two years ago, there was very little about global warming or the environment that could get a commissioning editor or channel controller interested in giving it an hour in primetime," said BBC science and natural history executive producer Phil Dolling, speaking at a panel titled "Can Green TV Be Primetime TV?"

"But that has significantly changed. ... This is a subject that is of such overwhelming importance that broadcasters are basically involved," he added, cautioning that relentless focus on the negative aspects of environmental research could eventually alienate viewers.

This year MIP organizers are hosting the first Green World Award, which will be given to photographer Yann Arthus Bertrand at a gala dinner Tuesday night at the Carlton Hotel, while news conferences to launch a slew of green programming including RDF Media's controversial documentary "The Great Global Warming Scandal" pepper the agenda for the market and confab that runs through Thursday.

The BBC is far from the only broadcaster to become engaged in the green debate.

"About a year ago the Sundance channel decided to get in to the green arena in a serious way," said Lynne Kirby, senior vp Sundance and vp alternative programming. "Our partners, NBC, CBS and Robert Redford saw it as an opportunity to give us a distinctive presence."

Sundance unveiled elements of its three-hour weekly block "Sundance Green" at the market here. The block launches Tuesday and will be a permanent home to environmental themes, said Kirby, but she insists that it will not be about forcing home an environmental message.

"Our approach is through entertainment. We didn't want to throw it down people's throats. It's not about saying: 'You suck, get rid of your SUV.' "

Content featured on the block will include the eco-themed series "Big Ideas for a Small Planet."

Presenting "Oceans: Engines of our Planet," "Lord of the Rings" executive producer Barrie Osborne also said that audiences needed to be drawn into storytelling to maintain their interest in the genre, amid concern that too much green-oriented programming could result in "issue fatigue."

"I thought I would take a feature film approach: We're telling a story and have to tell it through people. In a movie, you cast actors to tell the story; in a documentary, you have to go into communities and find the best people to present. In the last three years, we have put together researchers and scientists to find those stories."

Many executives cited global interest in the Al Gore documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" as kick-starting mass audience interest in environmental debate, particularly in the North American market, where policymakers are seen to be dragging on the issue.

"We are seeing a huge international interest in environmental issues thanks to the Al Gore film," said Justyna Muench, acquisitions and sales executive at Germany's Telepool, which is handling most international territories on the award-winning Swiss documentary "A Crude Awaking: The Oil Crash." "The success of 'An Inconvenient Truth' has meant that a lot of buyers are willing to do a theatrical release on films with environmental themes, which of course correspondingly raises the license fee."

The influence of green TV is extending beyond the small screen as politicians of all ideological stripes try to capitalize on the growing importance of climate change issues with their electorates. This can range from California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appearing on MTV's "Pimp My Ride" promoting biofuel alternatives to petrol, to Green Party pundits across Europe screening "Truth" at campaign rallies.

"I was recently in a rural district where we had a screening of the Al Gore, film and in the discussion afterwards, people were all talking about how many stars in Hollywood were buying hybrid cars, were trying to cut emissions," said Grietje Bettin, media politics spokeswoman for Germany's Green Party. "There is definitely an awareness there that we didn't have a year ago, and it is up to us to use that to get the policies pushed through that will make a real change."
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