by Anastasia Thrift, CatChannel.com Managing Editor
Cats and the internet have long been friends, but 2013 might mark the apex of web cat celebrity. No longer a guilty pleasure, internet cat stars have come out front and center for fans to enjoy. They saturate the web, of course, but now draw crowds at public events and captivate curators of traditional media.
Ultimate proof of web cat popularity exists online, naturally. The website Cheezburger.com began in 2007 with a steady stream of funny cat photos, and now traffic to its cat meme branch brings in roughly 3,200,000 visitors daily. Setting the bar for individual cats, the biggest star of all cat videos remains Maru. The cat from Japan, who never met a box he didn’t want to jump into, has received 224 million YouTube hits since his channel debuted in 2008. On the horizon, newer stars like Pudge the Cat and Colonel Meow are breaking out this year, drawing thousands of video viewers and Facebook fans.
People now can gather with other cat fans to watch the best of the best cat videos in person, too. Nearly 10,000 people attended the kickoff of the 2013 Internet Cat Video Festival in Minneapolis this summer. Visitors saw video stars “in-cat” accepting prizes and greeting fans. Top internet cats in attendance included Grumpy Cat and Lil Bub, and last year’s festival winner Henri Le Chat Noir made a special video appearance. The festival will tour to New York City, Chicago and San Francisco, and coordinators are considering invitations to bring their event abroad.
Traditional media, too, have welcomed online cat celebrities. Maru, Grumpy Cat, Henri Le Chat Noir and Lil Bub have all published books. Lil Bub starred in a documentary that took home a prize from the Tribeca Online Film Festival and Grumpy Cat is making a feature film. On TV, the Bravo network centered a show around Cheezburger employees, including cat picture captioners, called “LOLwork”; morning talk shows have hosted many internet cat stars or their human family; and, breaking up the airtime, some commercials have starred web celebrity cats, such as Colonel Meow and the old-school classic Keyboard Cat.
The media are also examining why we love these cats so much and what it means. CBS news recently released a report on the profitability of cat videos, evident in the creators’ ability to market their adorable pets and even partner with companies for promotional material; Henri and Grumpy, for example have both partnered with Purina. Lastly, PBS recently dedicated a Mediashift post to exploring why cats capture our attention so much. Experts boiled it down to a basic affinity for their adorableness, our ability to project our feelings onto these cats, and our historical connection to cats during 10,000 years of domestication. If this year was any proof, this connection appears to be stronger than ever and growing.
Check out our slideshow of the Internet’s most famous cats.