A funny thing happened in today’s South by Southwest cat video panel. About three-quarters of the way through the session, the biggest cat star in the world walked in (carried by an owner). Grumpy Cat herself was in the room, showing off her gorgeous pout and posing for pictures.
The room could not have exploded more if Lady Gaga had shown up. Half the attendees jumped up to get pics (including this writer). And that fact perfectly underscores what the whole session was about: Cat videos aren’t just an internet curiosity anymore; they’re big business.
“Cat’s have kind of taken over the internet,” said panelist Grace Suriel, director of social media for Animal Planet. Her company’s execs have noticed. The challenge for her network is figuring out how to play in the space without spoiling it by being too corporate.
Animal Planet’s efforts so far include making meme-style graphics to promote its show “My Cat from Hell,” and creating a TV special staring cat celeb Lil Bub (as well as Amy Sedaris and Andrew W.K.).
By putting online cats on the air, Suriel says the network is breaking new ground. Its viewers don’t always know the online feline of the moment.
“There is a disconnect between the internet world and the Animal Planet world,” Suriel said. “It seems like the market is so oversaturated for these videos, but our audience has a long ways to go and we’re just getting started.”
Animal Planet has been successful so far in riding the cat wave. Due to its increase in cat-oriented programming, people are now more aware of its programming. The crazy cat lady has evolved, Suriel said; there’s now a whole new breed.
Is there a way to tell ahead of time which cat videos will go viral, an audience member asked? “If I knew that, I would get a huge promotion,” Suriel said.
For brands looking to get involved in online trends, the lesson is to pay attention and don’t push. With viral content, the audience is in charge. The only thing brands can do is be agreeable partners.
“You don’t throw the party, you just invite yourself to the most interesting party,” Suriel said.