May 8, 2012
TV for dogs reaches prime time
Bark if you love DogTV.
The new made-in-Israel U.S. cable channel is scientifically programmed to keep pooches stimulated, happy and comforted when they’re home alone.
When dogs are left alone, they can get depressed, lose their appetite and their desire to play, says DogTV CEO Gilad Neumann. There are 46 million households with dogs in the United States, encompassing a total of 78.2 million pet canines.
“That’s quite a few potential viewers and many lonely dogs,” he said. “It’s all very scientific, although I know it sounds like a joke. When you dig deeper, you see it’s a serious business.”
Time Warner Cable and Cox Communications began a six-month free trial of the 24-hour digital channel on Feb. 13 for their one million viewers in San Diego. If it is successful, DogTV will be distributed more widely as a subscription-based service, Neumann said.
The concept came from Ron Levi, a New York-born dog lover and chief content officer at Jasmine Group, a private media communications company in Ramat Gan.
At the time, Neumann was CEO of Jasmine TV, one of several subsidiaries of the Jasmine media conglomerate whose July-August Productions recently sold the format for the hit game show “Who’s Still Standing?” to NBC Universal.
“We’re always seeking interesting ideas with an emphasis on international expansion. So when Ron approached me with this idea, I thought it was crazy enough to look into,” Neumann said. He suggested that Jasmine invest some seed money to explore the idea.
Their research revealed that the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Humane Society of the United States all recommend leaving the TV on for dogs home alone, to provide stimulation and keep away stress and depression.
“We combined this with a lot of science on the effects of video on dogs, how they react to TV and what kind of visuals, music and sounds they enjoy,” Neumann said.
He recruited professor Nicholas Dodman of Tufts University’s animal behavior department as DogTV’s program director and chief scientist. Dodman explains on DogTV’s Web site that dogs won’t sit on the couch for hours at a time watching the channel. It’s more like a backdrop with a pleasing soundtrack that they can choose to view as long as they wish.
British trainer Victoria Stilwell, from the Animal Planet series “It’s Me or the Dog,” and Warren Eckstein, an animal rights activist and pet trainer, round out the crew of DogTV experts.
“They added their knowledge to our production experience,” said Neumann, who holds an MBA from Pepperdine University and a law degree from the Israeli College of Management.
As good as the idea was, it couldn’t have been put into action if not for the introduction of LCD television technology. Neumann explains that dogs’ eyes are bothered by the flickering frames on old analog televisions, though humans don’t notice them.
“Now they can see perfectly fine on LCD, but they can only see blue and yellow, so we enhance and recolor the contents for them,” Neumann explained.
As content developer, Levi organized the channel’s programming into three categories: shows meant to relax dogs, shows that stimulate them and shows intended to expose them gently to situations with which they may need to get more comfortable — such as a running vacuum cleaner or street traffic.
“This creates a companionship environment,” Neumann said, “a channel that is fully suitable for dogs. ”
This is hardly the first instance of an Israeli TV show hitting prime time in the United States. “In Treatment,” “Homeland,” “Traffic Light” and “The Ex List” went first. However, it is the first time a programming concept has gone directly from the Israeli drawing board to American TV screens. Neumann hopes DogTV is barking up the right tree.