Social media’s growth owes much to the masses' love of the animal clips and memes flooding it each day. For every horrific news story, there's always the immediate comfort of a fluffy animal following it on the feed. Social-first publisher The Dodo, a leader in fluffy animals, is bringing its expertise to TV.
If you’ve scrolled social media any time in the last decade, you can’t have missed the explosion of cute animal videos. Perhaps you’ve indulged in them during your lunch break or forwarded them to an animal-loving friend. Chances are, those cute clips were produced by The Dodo.
Tiny kittens, cute puppies and a stable of emotion-inspiring creatures work their way through The Dodo each day, with content performance helping to inform it of the hottest trends in the animal kingdom. Rest assured, with this approach, the Dodo is now the king of the jungle, as the most-viewed animal brand on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter. But that’s not enough. YuJung Kim, president of The Dodo, says it has ambitions of moving into the TV space.
Kim says social channels had been the “ultimate incubator for testing out and ultimately making a deeper investment in a given character or franchise”. Founded in 2014, the brand is part of Group Nine Media, alongside the Thrillist, NowThis, PopSugar and Seeker. The Dodo monthly video views have roughly doubled to 5bn in the last year.
The brand-building all started with Pumpkin the miniature horse - it took 20m views in its first video. Later Pumpkin featured in its franchise, Comeback Kids, getting more than 120m views. Detailed was the horse's miraculous recovery.
It'll get your bottom lip shaking.
With the horse now firmly established as a media personality, Pumpkin featured in a children’s book from Scholastic. Where will the modern media landscape take Pumpkin next?
Kim says: “This is generally the approach we take to building IP — we take a lot of the risk out of it by using our social channels as a real-time feedback loop. When our audience loves a theme or story or specific animal, they let us know it in a big way.
“We’re able to incubate ideas on social media to get real-time audience reaction, feedback and engagement.”
Similar approaches have been used to scale up Izzy Bee, the Koala Whisperer, onto Netflix in Izzy’s Koala World in September, after a brief stint in its first TV series Dodo Heroes on Animal Planet (owner Discovery also has a stake in Group Nine). That was an anthology series that tested the star power and narratives of select animals and their interesting handlers.
The Koala Whisperer, tailored for families, is the wholesome show Joe Exotic, star of the infamous Tiger King documentary, thought he was making. That it sits comfortably in Netflix Kids shows the breadth of content on the SVOD platform.
So, atop the aforementioned shows, there’s Odd Couples, on DisneyNow, its Daily Essentials show, ‘All the Feels,’ on the struggling Quibi and other series across Discovery Go and Discovery Kids.
The Dodo has a broad spread of TV partners, echoing its presence on the top social platforms.
Each has their own demographics and sweet spots, as Quartz previously described. Facebook for the cute things, Instagram for the narrative-led pieces, and the quick windows of attention on Snap for creepy crawlies and shock. The OTT platforms are just as nuanced in audience, dwell time and format type.
The jump from short form animal videos to fully-fledged productions isn’t one many viral publishers have made. Kim isn’t going to make any comparisons. No one’s done it in the animal space.
“Animal storytelling was previously done exclusively as either quick-hit viral videos on the internet or as premium long-form documentaries on TV – there was no bridge between the two. We’d like to think we’ve pioneered a new format for animal stories by drawing from the best of both worlds.
“To be successful in long-form, we identify those protagonists who really draw the audience in but also have a compelling story arc.”
And then there are the animals – the weirder the better – “koalas, seals and wombats” are just some examples Kim offered.
But does the Dodo have an advantage in developing these formats? Can its marketing machine make sure these shows see success?
Kim offers the example of Dodo Heroes, Animal Planet’s first-ever global premiere that hit 220 countries and territories.
“This was the perfect proof point of how The Dodo can leverage its massive social following to actually drive linear tune-in. Nearly 1-in-5 linear viewers of Dodo Heroes were new to Animal Planet and younger than its average audience, which can be attributed to The Dodo driving their younger social audiences to TV."
It was the network's top-performing freshman series. Developing programming based upon social tastes, and shouting about them on social, secured sizeable audiences.
Looking forward, The Dodo is keeping a lid on yet another partnership with yet another OTT platform and expects to explore commercial opportunities in the pets space, Kim hints.
And to conclude, seeing as times are tough, here's The Dodo's most viewed video. The tale of a badly neglected pony, a 'Comeback Kids' episode, has clocked nearly 150m video views across Facebook, YouTube, Twitter. Buckle up, it's quite the ride.