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January 31, 2013

Puppy Bowl and the growth of online cute

NEW YORK — When reporters from the New Yorker, "NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams," "Good Morning America," the Associated Press and, yes, The Washington Post have all convened upon one event, it must be important. An appearance by the president. A press conference about dignified matters, with plenty of throat-clearing and questions taken at the end. Something worthy of those camera crews schlepping pounds of gear.

Nope! It's puppies, 63 of them to be precise — the stars of Animal Planet's ninth annual Puppy Bowl. Journalists spent two days writing about puppies and taking video of other people taking video of puppies. Come Sunday, many more of them will be tweeting about those puppies. And here those puppies are, being discussed in a five-page web article and the 80 column inches of paper that several trees died for, as some readers will be sure to remind us. And many of you may be rolling your eyes.

But the rest of you will eat it up, because puppies — these puppies especially — are so very cute. So cute that in the nine years since the Puppy Bowl first graced our screens, adorable has become a television genre, an Internet phenomenon and a cash cow for both. Cute cannot be dismissed.

And thank goodness it wasn't in 2005, when Animal Planet executives green-lighted a crazy idea: to film puppies playing football as counterprogramming to the Super Bowl. It may have sounded like a lark, but they said yes. And now they are reaping the rewards: The Puppy Bowl attracts a larger audience every year, with 2012's show attracting 8.7 million unique total viewers during the 12-hour marathon. It was the highest day of web traffic ever for Animalplanet.com, with 5.5 million page views and 1.4 million videos streamed. It also ranked No. 1 for social television in cable last year, and according to AdWeek, ad revenue is up 19 percent over last year.

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