When The Dodo founder and editor-at-large Izzie Lerer started her animal-focused media company, she always aimed to be a social-first publisher.
Thanks to early pivoting to online video, the company is among the top Facebook video publishers with an average of 2.1 billion views a month and runs one of Facebook Watch’s most viewed shows.
“It became pretty clear [social video] was the way of the world, animal content in particular,” Lerer said. “People connect to animals visually and how they move. Video is a pretty obvious intuitive thing for the kind of work we do.”
Though The Dodo has a website, the majority of its views and traffic come from Facebook. Its video “Kids Growing Up with Dogs” is still one of the top videos on Facebook to date at 360 million views. And it’s found success on Facebook’s new TV initiative Facebook Watch with “Comeback Kids: Animal Edition,” the second most watched show on the platform, according to public view counts. The third episode — which centers around a neglected pony which is nursed back to health— is currently the most viewed Facebook Watch video at 55 million views to date.
“In the earlier days, our views were shorter, I would say sub 7 seconds,” The Dodo president YuJung Kim said. “Now we’re looking at 5 to 7 minute video episodes we produce, where over 15 percent of the audience makes it to the very end. As users familiarity with Facebook grows, we’ve kind of ridden that wave and set the bar higher for how long people should watch a given video.”
The company, which is named after the first recorded species that humans drove to extinction, raised $18 million in funding before joining digital media company Group Nine Media, which is run by Izzie’s brother Ben Lerer. Group Nine Media received a $100 million minority investment from Discovery Communications in October 2016.
Although her family has a storied media legacy — her father is media executive Ken Lerer, who co-founded Huffington Post and serves as managing director of Lerer Hippeau Ventures — Lerer insists the idea for The Dodo came from “a personal passion for the subject manner, not because of a passion for the industry.” Lerer, who has a PhD in animal studies with a focus on animal ethics and human relationships from Columbia University, launched The Dodo in 2014 after noticing the viral success of animal videos online but seeing no one “really owned the space.”
“At the same time, people are connecting to animals in a new and different way,” she added. “We care more about them. There’s more giving, and it’s tied into a progressive movement. [I thought], ‘how do we take these two observations and create a content brand for people who love animals?'”
Part of the reason for The Dodo’s success is it seeks out particular kinds of animal videos with “the right emotional kernel,” Lerer said. Usually it means animals that have interesting personality traits or a strong human-animal bond. What it translates to a lot of animal rehabilitation videos and animal rescues, as some as general animal issue awareness videos including a recent New York City museum exhibit that was set to feature dogfighting footage as art and, of course, standard cute viral fodder like a livestream of puppies.
Due to its success, the company wants to expand into more territories including Spanish-speaking countries. It also wants to experiment with other mediums like 360-degree video and virtual reality. And because of its success with video, it has its eyes set on TV one day.
“We’re pushing deeper into longer content,” Lerer said. “Facebook Watch, those shows are our first foray. Obviously it doesn’t end there. What can we do in the form of 30-minute, hour long shows?”