“Henri goes all the way up to US$10 on a CPM. This is really high. It doesn’t mean I’m rich, but compared to a lot of things on YouTube, this is a very select and very specific audience,” he said, while warning that success has been a matter of trial and error.
“There really is no blueprint in a lot of ways to make something like this work. All of us, every success we have or every mistake we make, we’re collecting data for the next guy or gal.”
Remember that “meme manager” mentioned earlier? That’s Ben Lashes, who switched a job as a professional musician for a role managing the careers of a number of cat brands and other YouTube characters. His first client was musical mog Keyboard Cat and its owner Charlie Schmidt in 2010.
“He calls me up and says ‘I don’t know what to do, I’ve got this video that’s blowing up the internet’,” he said. “So we talked about it for an hour straight. I’m a pop culture geek, and saw Keyboard Cat as like any musician that had recorded a song and woken up with a hit song on the radio.”
That original video has been watched nearly 34.6 million times, while the dedicated channel launched by Schmidt and Lashes has accumulated another 58 million views since 2007, leading Lashes to his second client, Chris Torres — creator of the Nyan Cat meme, which started life as a YouTube video in 2011.
“It hit this new level of mainstream where all of a sudden a new level of people were understanding what cat videos were. The calls we were getting from merchandising were on a different level,” he said. “We had a legit toy company come and make Nyan Cat toys.”
Grumpy Cat followed in 2012: a kitten who shot to internet fame — initially on Reddit and subsequently on YouTube — on the strength of its naturally unimpressed face. Its official channel now has just under 155,000 subscribers and 25.4 million views.
As with Henri, the real money has been generated offline, including a spin-off book, public appearances and endorsements — including the announcement this week that Grumpy Cat is the face of cat-food brand Friskies’ latest seafood product.
The book? “This week it’s in its 10th week on the New York Times bestseller list, almost nine months after it came out,” said Lashes. “The second one comes out in July and Grumpy could care less.”
He suggested that the audience fuelling this demand is large but also diverse. “It isn’t just the crazy cat ladies, although they’re there in droves. It’s the six year-olds chanting the name of their favorite cats. It’s the hipsters there smoking cigarettes, hip-hop dudes, country dudes it is the kind of thing where you have to learn to make everybody happy,” he said.
“There’s an evolution of the crazy cat lady,” agreed fellow panelist Grace Suriel, director of social media for TV channel Animal Planet, which has been eagerly joining the cat videos bandwagon in recent years. “From all walks of life, people have cat dresses, cat tattoos it’s a whole new breed of cat person.”
A GENEROUS BREED
There’s a strong charitable aspect to many of the businesses built around cat videos, from Stulen’s festival raising “tens of thousands of dollars” for animal charities, through to Friskies donating meals to cat shelters every time people tweet its promotional hashtag during SXSW this week.