There aren’t a lot of binaries to be found in this world, but here’s one: There are people who love cat videos, and there are people who don’t. It’s a delineation that extends past the concept of dog versus cat people — there are cat owners who have no patience for watching kitty antics online, and there are people who would never dream of keeping a cat as a pet but obsessively follow Maru on YouTube.
Either way, there are enough fans out there to make cat videos one of the Internet’s most enduring and popular genres of web content: “No matter how successful you are here on the Internet on your own terms, it’s de rigueur that you still have to do something with a cat,” blogger and Google (s GOOG) employee David Marx was quoted as saying to Wired.
Oddly, though, it’s only this year that we’ve seen any efforts to bring some structure to the cat video universe. Normally, the marketplace is as unpredictable as the animals documented, but in 2012 two separate initiatives set out to honor this content.
Like the Oscars for cat videos
Right now, Friskies (s NESN), purveyors of fine cat food, is sponsoring, well, The Friskies — a competition honoring the best in cat videos from 2012. Currently open for submissions until October 12, the Friskies seeks to honor cat videos in one of four categories: Cat Behavior, Cat Comedy, Indoor Cat Adventure and Catchall. Category winners take home $2,500 each, and one grand prize winner will receive $15,000 — not to mention a year’s worth of Friskies cat food.
Friskies brand manager Shaun Belongie, via phone, said that so far Friskies has received at least 1,000 submissions, which a team of five will have to process before the voting begins and the celebrity judges — including comedian Michael Showalter and artist Wayne White — select the winning entries.
A live-streamed awards ceremony in November will celebrate the victors as well as, according to Belongie, include “fun content around the idea of an awards show for cats. Musical routines, that type of thing.”
This isn’t Friskies’s first experiment into the digital space, thanks to games like You vs. Cat, which transform the iPad into a human-cat interaction tool; it also has a vibrant YouTube presence, featuring ad campaigns, cat photos, and videos actually shot by cats. Compare this to Meow Mix, whose official YouTube channel features exactly one video, or Whiskas, which seems to have no American presence on YouTube at all. (Russian, British and Canadian, yes — American, no.)
It’s hard to deny that The Friskies should be a lot of fun for cat video fans, but it’s also a brilliant bit of branding — the company is literally giving the brand name a double meaning as “the Oscars of cat videos.” If the Friskies achieve any sort of serious reach, the brand will have successfully made its product synonymous with something people love.
“When we hear from cat owners, we hear a real excitement you don’t normally hear from cat owners about their brands,” Belongie said. “We certainly see the imagination of cats in our brand — which plays into the story that we put forward. The way [cats] see the world is very different from how we as people do — it’s a way to bring this to life.”
And then there is Sundance. Indie-meow.
If the Friskies are the Oscars of the cat video space, then the Sundance equivalent must be the Internet Cat Video Film Festival, which brought at least 10,000 people to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota this August.
Very indie in its roots — according to the the New York Times, there was no budget to bring in celebrity cats like Keyboard Cat or Nyan Cat — the ICVFF did also include a competition component, the grand prize going to extistential black-and-white favorite Henri 2, Paw de Deux.
Henri won’t be eligible for Friskies consideration, as it’s already won an award, but it would also have to be submitted for consideration: For your video to be Friskies-eligible, you have to have likeness rights to the cat. Yep. Likeness rights for cats are a real thing. Likeness rights and royalties and promotional deals; the Wired article quoted above is a fascinating visit with some Internet-famous cats of Japan, who bring in serious bank for their owners.
But even as the cat video world gains some additional structure, cat videos themselves remain one of the Internet’s great spontaneous joys. Because like cats themselves, it’s impossible to predict what will happen next.