A TV Channel for Dogs, Inspired By a Cat
Humans who want to watch TV have nearly endless channels and streaming options. But if you’re a dog, there’s only one network right at the top of the heap: DOGTV, the first-ever channel for canines.
And, it was a cat, of all things, that inspired it.
“I used to leave my cat, Charlie, home alone every day, and he seemed unhappy about it,” says Ron Levi, the founder and COO of DOGTV. “I felt guilty, but I thought, ‘I’m not here all day, but the TV is.’” While Charlie was not that interested in daytime talk shows or dramas, “he immediately reacted” when there were fish or birds on-screen.
The light bulb went off. This could be the perfect way to entertain lonely pets when they’re left at them at home — a 24/7 network filled with content for cats and dogs. For Levi, the idea seemed like a no-brainier, but investors didn’t have quite the same passion.
A Pivot to Dogs
He finally got some interest when he pitched his idea to the Jasmine Group, one of the largest media companies in Israel. And soon after their first meeting, Levi and his investors decided to make a major change. Research showed that cat owners tend to feel a lot less guilty leaving their pets behind, because they feel that cats aren’t as needy as dogs. So they decided to make it a one-animal network, focusing only on dogs.
That was step one. Step two was getting cable operators to carry the channel and customers to turn it on — and he knew it would take more than just a hunch that animals would respond to this channel.
So he spent the next three and a half years studying research from universities around the world, trying to understand the vision, hearing, and behavior of dogs. He also conducted a study of his own with Tufts University, installing security cameras and activity monitors in 38 apartments to understand how the pets would react all kinds of dog-focused content. He came into the studies with questions and left them with answers.
“We learned a lot,” he says. “We can now positively say that we are the world’s leading experts in how to create content for dogs.”
Armed with this information, DOGTV launched nationwide on DirectTV in 2013. From the get-go, it was a hot topic on TV. Late night talk show hosts had a field day with jokes about the new network, Ellen DeGeneres, talked it up, and even the nightly newscasts were buzzing about it.
But while many people were quick to poke fun at the concept, that multi-year R&D phase gave Levi the ammunition he needed to prove that this wasn’t a gimmick. The combined press attention and real research helped Levi secure his next rounds of funding. “Luckily, many investors saw the potential in DOGTV,” he says. Discovery Communications made a strategic investment in the company, and became a minority stakeholder of the channel. Since 2010, the company has raised about $20 million.
Today the network is carried in 14 countries, and has access to 45 million households in the U.S. alone. The content is all geared to relax or stimulate dogs (and their human companions), with programs predominantly shot from dog’s point of view.
3 Lessons for Other Entrepreneurs:
With the perspective of being able to look back on what it took to turn DOGTV from an idea into a multimilion dollar business, Levi offers these tips to fellow entrepreneurs:
Lesson 1: Be prepared for the long haul. Levi says that no matter what your business idea is, persistence is key to make the impossible and possible. The founder and COO of DOGTV told The Balance that he had been walking around with the idea of "television for dogs" for years, and had a hard time to get investors to take him seriously:
"At some point I wasn't sure this idea was going to happen, and thought, 'What if everyone is right and this is a silly idea?' Luckily, not giving up paid off eventually. But it took much time and much persistence, and passion, to make this dream a reality."
Lesson 2: You can't set up a business alone. Levi, and his team, invested a lot of time building relationships. And he says that your business idea will require a long-term commitment to know the people in your industry.
"Our team invested lots of time in building the right relationships in order to turn DOGTV into a reality and into a success," he explained. "We had been talking to Comcast, for example, for a few years, before finally launching with them."
Lesson 3: Have faith in your idea. Levi says that when DOGTV first launched in 2012, they became a joke on late night tv — from Conan to Letterman, and from Leno to Fallon. Initially, people and media reacted to his business as a joke or a gimmick. But five years later, they are now taken very seriously. The founder of DOGTV maintains with conviction that if your business idea works, stick with it:
"Because it works. Because it grew fast. Because of the science behind it. People actually understand now that a channel that [is] tailor made for canines can actually improve their behavior and well-being when home alone. If what you do is real, and it solves an actual problem, even if people laugh at you first, sooner or later they will get it."