“The audience is not only very generous, but very aware of problems with feral cats, and the money needed for shelters and things like that,” said Braden. “Charity is not just the ethical thing to do, it’s good business. Every time I was able to say ‘10 percent of X product goes to charity’ you’d sell 20 percent more.”
The SXSW session included a clear demonstration of the appeal of internet cat video stars — at least to an audience attending a panel discussion of internet cat videos — when Grumpy Cat appeared with her owner.
Cue a quarter of the audience (at least) scrambling into one corner, smartphones or tablets in hand for shareable shots while the panelists tried to continue holding the attention of the rest of the room with a key question: what is it about cats that has made them so popular on YouTube?
“Everybody just loves cats,” said Braden. “I just think it has a particular niche and a particular power, because it harnesses such a lot of what people like online. It’s funny, but it also has the ‘aw that’s cute’ thing.”
“I almost see it as a reaction culturally against all the stuff that people have been feeding you for years, now that the power is in the masses’ hands,” added Lashes. “You don’t have to listen to Warner Brothers any more. ‘I’m into this cat, so suck it!’ It’s almost like sticking it to The Man. ‘I’m going to buy a cat shirt.’”
Stulen warned that what doesn’t work are videos that are too self-consciously trying to go viral, before asking his fellow panelists what the future holds for this particular category of online content.
Suriel predicted evolution as more television brands get involved. “Will there be a cat video channel someday? I can definitely see that happening,” she said. “It’s just going to keep moving.”
“What’s been incredible is the people. Really incredible people to work with, and that’s what’s behind anything good like this: people whose intentions are genuine,” added Stulen. “The future is bright as long as those things are in place.”
Meanwhile, Lashes warned doubters that cat videos are unlikely to fall out of fashion in the near future. “With cat videos or Justin Bieber records or a movie that comes out next week, there’s always that question: ‘is this going to be cool tomorrow, is this going to be the hot thing next week?’” he said.
“Sometimes you keep asking these questions and realize hang on, that was 10 years ago we started asking that question. As long as you keep it legit and keep fans happy, that can go on forever.”