Puppy Bowl Now Mastiff-sized

With ratings soaring, Animal Planet can leverage its dog-tastic counterprogramming event with new advertisers

Apparently there’s a lot of money in dog videos.

In 2012, Animal Planet enjoyed a 17 percent uptick in its key demo ratings (adults 25-54) over the last year and, in fact, helped to offset declines at heavy-hitting sister networks Discovery and TLC in several categories. Now, the network is doubling down on one of its flagship shows, namely Puppy Bowl, which runs Super Bowl Sunday, starting at 3 p.m. The program is up 19 percent in ad revenue over last year’s marathon presentation of very small shelter dogs, according to Animal Planet vp of national ad sales Jeffrey Pellegrini.

Animal Planet is essentially looking to monetize every inch of the two-hour event, which is immediately rerun five times, in the same way that live sports trick out their games with sponsorships. (And just like college football, the players get paid in dog food!)

“This year we’ve sold the naming rights to the stadium to Geico,” said Pellegrini, who also landed Subaru to sponsor PB’s second-screen app and Icebreakers for the cool-down event.

Much of the network’s programming effectively mimics high-traffic Web content—there’s a show called Too Cute that would look right at home on YouTube—but that has its advantages. Animal Planet has made headlines with dangerous, even lethal adventures on shows like Ocean’s Deadliest and Whale Wars, but its quieter programs like Puppy Bowl offer safer branding opportunities.

Animal Planet appears to be breeding success. It’s among the fastest-growing networks of its distribution size—near-full distribution at 96 million homes, with an average fee (according to SNL Kagan) of 10 cents per cable subscriber and ad revenue projected to go from $163.2 million in 2012 to $174.5 million this year. Much of the company’s business gets written in the upfront, and one of the shows that helps seal deals, according to president and gm Marjorie Kaplan, is Puppy Bowl.

“We can have a much bigger paw print for this,” Kaplan said (Animal Planet execs like to use quadruped-related terminology). “I can imagine a day when there’s a Road to the Puppy Bowl.”

This year’s big addition: hedgehog cheerleaders…in tutus, apparently. It may be treacly and induce eye-rolling, but it’s hard to argue when PB attracts new advertisers. This year, first-timers include Geico and Universal, which is pumping its kids movie, Despicable Me 2.

Not bad for a program that began life as the football equivalent of the tape loop of a yule log New York station WPIX used to run on Christmas Eve.