It may not be the most intellectually stimulating web content, but it’s hard to be immune to the joys of the I Can Has Cheezburger blogging empire, which includes the original LOL Cats archive, Graph Jam, and FAIL Blog. And when the ICHC network began incorporating videos via YouTube, the results were epic win for them and audiences alike. Last week, I spoke with “Chief Cheezburger” Ben Huh about catching up with the cat video frenzy, using the YouTube community as a focus group, and how you re-edit an adorable cat video to make it even cuter. An edited transcript follows. [show=failblog]
NewTeeVee: So how long have you been actively using the cheezburger YouTube account?
Ben Huh: Probably about two or three weeks? Since the beginning of the year.
NewTeeVee: Which you are now launching as a Partner account…
Huh: Yes, we are officially approved as a Partner. But our first priority is understanding what kind of product our users are looking for, because for this model it’s slightly different — the videos are user-sourced but they’re edited by us.
And you can see the progression of how we think on the channel, because sometimes we’ll do one edit and see how it plays with the YouTube crowd, and then we’ll do another edit that we think is better. Then, depending on response, we’ll use the better one on the blog.
It’s really hard to predict what users want, and YouTube has been a great place for us to get a sense of that. For example, I don’t know if you saw AYDS Commercial Fail—
NewTeeVee: Yeah, that was amazing!
Huh: Yeah, I thought so too, but it hasn’t even cracked a million views yet — it’s at maybe three quarters of a million. I figured that’d be more successful and it wasn’t. But YouTube is an excellent filter for us to figure out what will work well on the site and what will not. Because at the end of the day, all of this is designed so that the content we post on the blogs is the best.
NewTeeVee: So FAIL Blog and ICHC are the ultimate destinations for this content, not YouTube?
Huh: Yeah, YouTube is more like our voting system, where you get to see more: some of the stuff never makes to the site, but if you subscribe to the YouTube channel, you’ll get more videos. It’s a slightly bigger box of candy.
NewTeeVee: Is the audience that tunes in for FAIL Blog different from ICHC?
Huh: There is a significant overlap, but it is quite different. ICHC is female-leaning and FAIL Blog is male-leaning, as well as slightly younger — especially the YouTube channel, they tend to be significantly younger.
NewTeeVee: The ICHC YouTube channel is a slightly late entry into the cat-video game — how do you plan on making up for lost time?
Huh: We have no plans aside from concentrating on what we think is going to be funny and delivering entertainment to our users. Because we are really late to the game — let’s talk about this — I’m sure that if you look at the first video that got uploaded to YouTube, it was a pet video. But we’re concentrating on delivering something we think our audience will like, and we believe that that is all we need to do.
And today, the Cheezburger channel is the 30th most viewed Partner channel on YouTube, out of however many thousands of partners YouTube has. So I don’t know if we need to do anything. We’re just going to focus on building in the most entertainment value in the briefest amount of time, and we’ll see if our editing can actually be a value add and not be distacting — if it makes them more fun, and not less.
NewTeeVee: How do you go about re-editing and packaging these videos, while still maintaining the found footage charm?
Huh: Well, the job of the editing is to enhance the dramatic elements while also still maintaining that feel. If you look at What Lies Beneath, with the cat hiding in packing peanuts — in the original video as it came to us, you can actually see the cat popping in and out. So what we did when we edited the video was find the moments where the cat was completely submerged, so you can only see faint glimpses of what it is — thus delaying the surprise.
I mean, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you can read the watermark on the video, see that it says ICHC, and know that it’s a cat. You know what’s going to happen. But because of the way it’s edited, when this tiny adorable kitten does pop its head up, it’s a little bit sweeter. There’s no grand Steven Spielberg or M. Night Shyamalan thing going on here, but it is really cute.