By Marty Graham
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Nielsen isn't tracking the network's ratings and broadcasters aren't copying its programs -- not yet, anyway. But a new cable TV station has a fresh audience in its backyard and tails are wagging excitedly.
DogTV, a cable network for dogs, launched in San Diego this past Monday aimed at stay-at-home canines and their workaday owners who want to feel better about time apart. Free at launch, people will eventually pay $4.99 a month for the channel, but that may seem a small for sum for fido's peace of mind.
"We find it helps with separation anxiety, a problem for many dogs, and with keeping dogs relaxed and entertained," said Lisa Wilhoit McCormick, co-owner of Fido & Co. dog country club here, which is the official home of DogTV. "It does look different from human TV - the colors are different and the videos are taken from a dog's point of view."
She said the idea arose from people with stay-at-home dogs who couldn't bring them to a day care facility like Fido & Co. while the owners were at work.
Americans spent more than $45 billion on their pets in 2009, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association. A growing number of the 63 percent of American households with pets are spending more than $4 billion a year on grooming, boarding and doggie day care. So, why not TV?
Dog psychologists and behavior experts put about 400 hours into researching what TV-watching pooches like to see and hear and how programs should look.
DogTV's scientific advisory board includes Dr. Nicholas Dodman, a professor of veterinary medicine and behavior at Tufts University and British dog trainer Victoria Stillwell.
"Every dog has a little different taste in programming," Neumann said. "We have learned a lot and we're hoping to learn more from this launch," according to DogTV chief executive officer Gilead Neumann.
CAR CHASES OUT; SPONGEBOB IN
McCormick said many people already leave their TVs on for their dogs, but programs with car chases, sirens and gunshots can cause stress for canines.
Researchers found that dogs like "SpongeBob SquarePants" and harp music, among other things. They enjoy shows with other dogs in them including the movie "Beverly Hills Chihuahua," a perennial favorite at Fido & Co.
Other DogTV shows include a pooch-eye view from outside car windows set to somber piano music, and the sound of panting, as well as low and close-to-the-ground shots of dogs playing and chasing balls.
One thing you won't find on DogTV: advertising.
"Advertising is difficult for us - our viewers aren't able to speak out or purchase products," Neumann said. "Our content will be 100 percent for dogs, we love our subscribers but they are paying for our efforts to please our viewers."
The channel, which is being broadcast locally by Cox Communications and Time Warner Cable, was developed by a team of Israeli TV entrepreneurs. After the initial launch, customers will pay $4.99 per month for the service. Cox Cable spokeswoman Ceanne Guerra said it's too early to tell how many viewers the show has had, but she does know that a few were her own dogs.
"I did turn it on this morning," Guerra said. "It showed two dogs rough-housing and playing and another one sleeping when I was leaving for work."
At Fido & Co., where a day of play costs about $34, DogTV plays on big screen TVs for the guests, McCormick said.
It helps to put the television near the floor, she noted.
(Reporting By Bob Tourtellotte)