Does your cat have what it takes to become the next Maru?
Yesterday, The Awl featured an interesting post written by Sarah Stodola about her quest to get rich by making, and subsequently monetizing, viral cat videos. A noble goal, to be sure - but is it an easily attainable one?
Sarah, who doesn't actually have any cats of her own, started off her experiment by researching the history of cat videos and the monetization of YouTube videos on the internet. While no one - including YouTube - will confirm any hard figures, estimates suggest that uploaders are being paid anywhere from $1 to $10 per 1,000 page views. Based on that given formula, she surmises, "For a viral hit, revenue could easily reach into the six figures."
With those stakes in mind, Stodola was also able to uncover that the first cat video to go viral on YouTube was "Puppy vs. Cat" in 2006. To date, the somewhat lackluster video boasts a modest 12 million views, but back then, getting your video seen was not such a gargantuan feat. According to the Google rep she spoke with, there are currently 2.3 million cat clips on the video sharing site, which is equal to somewhere between eight and nine years worth of cat related content. Let that sink in for a minute!
As part of her investigation, the aspiring cauteur also spoke with Jack Shepherd - BuzzFeed's resident cat expert - about the specific characteristics that can help bring a cat video out of obscurity and on to the front page of the popular website. He listed "emotional resonance, the element of surprise, and a narrative context" as hits, and "cats doing cat stuff" as misses.
“A good piece of cat content," he says, "often hits all of these notes."
Shepherd also asserts that cats doing “people things” tends to do well, as do the elusive - yet also seemingly ever present - “interspecies” relationship videos.
Armed with her newfound knowledge, catnip, and a naive sense of optimism ("This might be a cinch, I thought. It seemed like a project that didn't require much talent, only a cat," she writes), Sarah created four cat videos (three of which were monetized), with the aid of some borrowed felines. In the end, she spent $30 on wine (for herself, and not the cats I presume), achieved 53 views, and made a bank breaking 4 cents in revenue.
But where did she go wrong?
"As would be proven to me over and over again, cats have the wary celebrity’s sixth sense of the presence of a camera, choosing Natalie Portman reserve over Paris Hilton exhibitionism. They might be doing a series of double back flips off the refrigerator, but turn the camera on them and they’ll immediately sit demurely on the floor," she writes of her first failed experiment with her friend's two cats, Schizo and Muffy.
And so, the cold, hard truth of working with furry, four-legged subjects emerges: If you point a camera on a cat and expect something noteworthy to happen, you're probably wasting your time. She cites Maru's success as inspiration, but for every Maru video that makes it way on a major site like Cute Overload or I Can Has Cheezburger, there are probably ten or more videos of the famous Scottish Fold that don't. Sure, even his least viewed videos get hundreds of thousands of views for the simple fact that he is Maru - but truth is, even the world's more famous feline doesn't perform on command.
Forgiving this shortsightedness, perhaps Sarah's biggest problem in her foray into the world of cat content creation is that she doesn't own a cat. I'm not saying that in a negative way or implying that non-cat owners should be prohibited from making bank off of other people's kitties - rather that she is missing out on the crucial understanding of how cats work - or as Shepherd calls is, knowing when "cats (are) doing cat stuff."
Any cat owner will tell you that cats do cute things all the time. If I recorded every single moment that my cats were doing something cute or funny throughout the day, I'd end up with hours of unusable footage. Cats are kinds of like babies in that everyone thinks they have the most precious snowflake in the world and everything it does it funny and interesting and cute - but it's not. Sure, it's funny and interesting to you, but there are a million cats out there doing the exact same cat-like things. The most successful viral videos feature cats doing something that your cat would (probably) never do.
Does your cat give dog massages? Play the keyboard? Hug its kitten like a teddy bear? Yeah, mine neither. If it were that easy, everyone would do it and there wouldn't be thousands of videos out there with only a handful of hits. The best YouTube cat videos are usually purely accidental moments of magic, or exhibit a cat doing a known talent (or fail) caught on film at just the right moment. Forced scenarios generally don't work, and as awesome as your kitty is, millions of people probably aren't going to want to watch it try to catch that red dot or sit around looking cute - because chances are, they have their own cat at home that does exactly the same thing.
These rules don't apply to kittens, of course, because everything they do is exceptionally cute, and they can stand around and do nothing and still garner hits. However, kittens grow up, and that's not to say that anyone, including Sarah, should give up on their dreams of becoming a cat video tycoon. Mr. Whiskers' weird talent could be just a click away from having you both meowing your way to the bank, but you just have to figure out how to capture that elusive moment on film first.
Click over to The Awl to read Sarah's entire article, and to watch all three of her viral video attempts.