The economy of internet cat videos? Yes, it’s a real thing. The Internet Cat Video Festival? Another real thing. A “meme manager” whose job is to build online brands for Keyboard Cat, Nyan Cat and Grumpy Cat? Oh yes, he’s real too.
Funny cat videos were a thing long before YouTube, but cats of all shapes, sizes and degrees of grumpiness have become one of the defining content categories on Google’s video service.
A panel session at the SXSW conference (film, interactive, and music festivals) in Texas, last weekend dug into some of the business aspects around this phenomenon, helmed by Scott Stulen, curator of the Internet Cat Video Festival — a traveling jamboree of feline videos which sold 11,000 tickets at last year’s Minnesota State Fair — 3,000 more than Depeche Mode.
The festival has since toured the US, and popped up in Vienna, Jerusalem and Derry. “At each of these events, people showed up their passion for cat videos,” said Stulen, who stressed that the festival itself is a “break-even” event. “It basically just pays for itself, and that’s been the intent from the beginning.”
Stulen was joined on the panel by Will Braden, creator of YouTube channel Henri le Chat Noir, a series of moody “existential” videos shot in black and white which has notched up more than 7.2 million views, plus another 10.9 million views for the first two videos on Braden’s personal channel.
“In no way did I ever think this was going to be a career, or any money was going to come out of it,” said Braden, who posted the first Henri video six years ago.
“I just thought how exciting it was that I was getting millions of views for this video.”
Braden makes money in two ways: from advertising revenues on YouTube, and then income from spin-off products including a book — subtitle: The Existential Musings of an Angst-Filled Cat — and an online merchandise store.
The book was pitched to publishers using a combination of analytics from YouTube and Facebook. “Now, a lot of the guesswork is taken away: you can come to a publisher and say I have this many followers, here’s where they live, here’s how old they are, all of that,” said Braden.
“It changes the way a publisher has to take a risk on a book. If one percent of all of the people who are your friend on Facebook buy this book, we make our money back.”
Henri’s Facebook page has more than 153,000 Likes at the time of writing, while mugs with his most popular slogans on are doing good business from his official store. “God knows why people want to take a mug into work saying ‘I’m surrounded by morons.’ That seems a little antagonistic to me,” chuckled Braden.
MONITISING THAT PUSSYCAT
He went into more detail on the economics of Henri’s popularity on YouTube, noting that it is “a smaller part of the revenue than people think, but also incredibly complex.”
He noted that many cat videos that have gone viral — even those with 100 million views or more — make no money at all unless their creator has a “monetized YouTube account” to place ads around their videos and make money from them. The next tier of financial reward comes from securing a YouTube partner account.
With a monetized account “you might get a dollar or two dollars per thousand views, but if you have a YouTube partner account you can easily double that, and get up to six maybe,” said Braden, before showing analytics suggesting that because Henri attracts a disproportionately female audience compared to general YouTube viewership, the channel is more valuable.