Cute Celebrity Cats Call the Creative Shots on YouTube, and 10 Other Video Pointers

YouTube viewers love cat videos, but it’s not all fun and games for feline performers, according to Michael Fasciano, social content director at Digitas. At 2014’s Media Summit in New York last week, he spoke on a panel about YouTube, offering a behind-the-scenes account of negotiations for his client to sign Maru, a male cat living in Japan and worldwide YouTube sensation.

Maru has been a YouTube star for a few years, consistently drawing throngs of worldwide viewers, and his owner posts videos under the account name Mugumogu. When a Digitas client wanted to feature Maru, who “jumps into a lot of things”, Fasciano sprang into action. He tracked down the cat and owner, confirming the relationship with a contract. Then he made arrangements to bring an American production crew to Tokyo.

“Not so fast”, said Maru’s owner, “you can’t set up a large production crew in our home”, Fasciano recounted. Aside from logistical issues, the owner said “it will impede Maru’s video performance”. Given the risk of the cat hiding under the bed, Fasciano had to rethink the premium production plans. But not before learning a lesson about YouTube stars: “You need to work with creators on their own terms”.

While that was the session’s most memorable takeaway, other panelists from YouTube, CollegeHumor and Cashmere Agency also offered valuable insights.

Maru the Cat YouTube2 FinalThey included Adam Relis, strategic partner manager of entertainment at YouTube; Ricky Van Veen, co-founder of CollegeHumor; and Nicholas Adler, VP business development at Cashmere Agency. Their tips cover a range of areas:

1. Relevance and humor: For content to go viral on YouTube it must be relatable. You need a hook at the beginning to get people focused, but don’t hold the joke until the end because viewers won’t necessarily get that far. (Van Veen)

2. Video length: There’s a growing appetite for long-form content, especially overseas. VICE Media now has offices in Japan and their programs includes 60-minute documentaries. (Relis)

3. Curation: YouTube’s site has undergone home page design changes and now there’s more focus on curation, to address the challenge of discovery for creators and users. (Relis)

4. Program agenda: You need to treat the program calendar with consistency. (Relis)

5. Community: YouTube isn’t TV, and it’s moving from content hosting to community, where social sharing is key. (Fasciano)

6. Production values: Hollywood premium production isn’t necessarily the first thing viewers are looking for on YouTube, either. (Fasciano)

7. Talent search: Brands should align with emerging talent that’s under-valued and has potential to break through. Next generation celebs are those now on YouTube, where it’s their passion and they’re having fun. (Fasciano)

8. Audience influencers: There’s a new premium around influencers who find niches with an audience. (Fasciano)

9. Competitive tracking: It’s important to monitor how different channels measure up, especially in terms of influence, engagement, consistency and momentum, to see which ones are trending. (Fasciano)

10. Keeping perspective: You need long-terms goals, and it takes patience for programs to build traction. (Adler)

Maru the Cat YouTube3 FinalNINE LIVES: Meanwhile, Maru enjoys Tokyo, and is nonchalant about his fame. We imagine he takes breaks from video performing and checks out what else is on. When he’s feeling serious, he watches VICE Japanese YouTube docs. When he’s hungry he catches Food Network‘s Iron Chef  Morimoto, and for a travel fix he saw the Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown Tokyo episode. Lately he’s following ace Japanese pitchers from MLB spring training. Yet no matter the outlet, he’s content knowing they all have far to go to match his mesmerizing and mischievous antics.

(images courtesy of YouTube)