Here Come the Sloths: James Williams, EP of Animalist, Talks Sloth Week

/ Jun 20, 2014

Sloth

Sloth Week begins today on Animalist (and at SlothWeek.com). This means that the Discovery Digital Network’s channel will feature sloth-related programming for six days of slow-moving adorableness, ending on June 25. As part of the weeklong tribute, Animal Planet will also bring the sloths back to TV, where the show “Meet the Sloths” will return on Saturday, June 21, showcasing five sloths living on a Costa Rican Sloth Sanctuary.

“Animalist News” anchors will also provide commentary on the Sloth Sanctuary, while the rest of Discovery Digital Network’s lineup, including TestTube.com, “SourceFed,” and “DNews,” will also feature related content.

In honor of the week dedicated to these “web superstars,” VideoInk asked the executive producer of Animalist, James Williams, some questions about the motivation behind Sloth Week, the logistics surrounding it, and whether we can expect a digital return of the sloths in years to come.

1. What sparked the idea for Sloth Week, or what served as the initial inspiration? Any specific story behind this?

At Animalist, we’re constantly on the search for great animal stories that emotionally engage us as humans. So, while we love our Animalist family of celebrity cats, lovable sloths had been slowly creeping onto our radar for some time now. We had been brainstorming sloth programming ideas and then I got an email from Tom Lofthouse, our SVP of Programming, that only said, “WE NEED TO DO A SLOTH WEEK.” As soon as I read that, I naturally replied, “OF COURSE WE NEED A SLOTH WEEK!” I saw that everyone who I mentioned the idea to immediately broke out in a smile, so I knew we were on to something good.

2. Why sloths…what makes them appealing enough to viewers to merit a whole week of related programming?

Sloths are web superstars – and they’re such interesting creatures, as well. On one hand, they’re these exotic looking animals that don’t behave like anything most people are familiar with. They live upside down. They don’t move fast. They have strange looking hands.

At the same time, there’s something about sloths that is extremely relatable. Their faces seem to mirror human expressions. They also look super cuddly and spark our imagination in ways other animals don’t. Then you see them reach out to you through a video or hear them squeak…let’s just say it was a challenge to narrow down our content ideas!

3. What were the logistics for putting Sloth Week together, and how do you go about creating a week of dedicated programming on the Internet vs. on TV?

Harnessing the creativity of our diverse show teams, we started off with a big brainstorm. We knew immediately that we wanted to visit a sloth sanctuary, and there were certain sloth characteristics we wanted to highlight. We also wanted to work with our Animal Planet brethren to extend the celebration even further.

From there, we focused on coordinating the wealth of content being created and making it easily accessible at SlothWeek.com.

Because our digital content is coming from so many different shows and angles, we have the luxury of not needing to continue a singular storyline from episode to episode. As long as the content celebrates sloths, it works. Each video stands on its own and provides an immediate payoff, which is critical to short form content.

4. What techniques used in putting together Shark Week translated to creating Sloth Week for the Internet?

Hats off to Discovery Channel and its finned stars for showing all of us – cable, broadcast and online – how to create a must-see, annual event. Thanks to the phenomena that is Shark Week, the idea of a week dedicated to one animal already has context for people. So, when I say, “We’re doing Sloth Week”, you know immediately what to expect: a trove of sloth-related content with big emotional pay-offs.

A distinct difference in the online video world, however, is the need to ensure that all the Discovery Digital Networks shows featuring sloth-y content could be found in one place. On linear TV, that’s not a problem, since it all lives on a single channel. In digital, it’s more challenging with our shows spread across multiple networks. Our solution was to drive everyone to SlothWeek.com, which in turn points to a hub on Animalist.com.

5. What will it take for Sloth Week to become a recurring thing on Animalist? Any plans to maybe feature other animals for a weeklong shot at fame in the future?

With the excitement and momentum we’ve seen already, I expect this to become a yearly event. It is evident that sloths aren’t going anywhere soon and that their appeal isn’t fading, and that’s a great thing! The more I’ve learned about sloths through this experience, the more I’ve come to appreciate them. As long as there’s an audience for these guys, we’d love to continue producing content about them. As for putting other animals in the “week” spotlight, we’ve got some ideas…stay tuned.

 

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