The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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January 31, 2013

Puppy Bowl and the growth of online cute

(Continued)

NEW YORK —

This year's new cute element, the hedgehogs, are not very fuzzy. The Puppy Bowl has experimented with hamsters operating a blimp camera, and Meep, a cockatiel who "tweets" sideline commentary. This year they'll also add a post-game hot tub — who can resist shots of puppies shaking off?

The producers have become experts at using technology to evoke awws. The water bowl camera, capturing tiny lapping tongues and the occasional puppy falling in, has become a mainstay. New this year are super-high-speed cameras that create slow-motion shots of puppies running, ears flopping everywhere. They've also attached a camera to a hockey stick to catch action close-ups. Some of the dogs mistake the stick for a toy and bite at it, which is probably even cuter.

Once the 90 hours of footage from 15 cameras are pared down and edited together, Animal Planet social media manager Grace Suriel, 29, picks which cute moments will be the most talked-about, so she can tweet them as Meep to build buzz. On game day, she responds to as many fans as possible and retweets their best quips.

Suriel, who has worked for Animal Planet for five years, says she remembers the first year Twitter became a crucial part of the Puppy Bowl strategy. In 2009, the show featured a streaker — a hairless Chinese Crested — that ran across the field.

" 'Streaker' trended right away," she said, "and that's when it really hit me — we have arrived in the pop culture world."

Last year, the introduction of Meep earned 21,000 followers in one day. Other than the human Super Bowl, of course, Suriel says, the Puppy Bowl was the most-tweeted event that day — 270,000 tweets — and the subject of four trending topics, beating out "The Voice." Every year, the Puppy Bowl has broken records on Animalplanet.com.

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