LOS ANGELES - It's a Super Bowl matchup for the ages: cats vs. dogs.
The Puppy Bowl, a fixture on Animal Planet during the Super Bowl for nearly a decade, will have new competition next year from the Kitten Bowl, the Hallmark Channel announced this month.
"We would like to own the day," said Bill Abbott, president and CEO of Crown Media Family Networks, which is home to the Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movie Channel.
"Copycats," chided Animal Planet in a statement.
Win or lose in the ratings, all the animals stand to benefit. Hallmark will use between 50 and 100 kittens from animal shelters around the country, and Abbott vowed to place each one in a home.
Animal Planet placed every dog and cat on this year's show - 63 puppies and 21 kittens. (Cats serve as halftime entertainment for the two-hour Puppy Bowl.)
The annual Puppy Bowl has a football theme, with the dogs scoring "touchdowns" if they cross a goal line with a chew toy.
Kittens in the Kitten Bowl will compete on an agility course set up with hurdles, scratchers, tunnels, hoops and weave poles. Laser pointers and toys on strings will be used to entice the kittens.
Judges will look at each kitten's ability to cuddle and win the hearts of viewers.
"We had to develop some kind of framework to show what wonderful animals they are. They are their own little souls," Abbott said. "Many people don't realize how entertaining cats are and what great companions they are for people."
Most of the competition will be unscripted. Kittens can't be expected to figure out a timed course, so not doing it in the cutest way will determine the winner, Abbott said. The Most Valuable Kitten will be the cutest of them all.
The show is part of Hallmark's Pet Project Initiative and will be done with a partner, the American Humane Association.
Is the showdown between puppies and kitties on different cable channels likely to answer the age-old question about which one is the most popular?
Well, there are cat people and there are dog people. And then there are people like Ana Bustilloz at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles. "I love dogs and cats equally. I like to have everything. Puppies are a lot of fun, and kittens are wildly amusing," she said.
"I will channel surf, for sure."
For the past two years, the spcaLA has sponsored a dog in the Puppy Bowl. The first one, Fumble, was even named Most Valuable Puppy. Bustilloz said she hopes to get an animal from the shelter in each bowl this year.
Animal Planet and Hallmark have a good relationship.
"We're just happy that pet adoption is being promoted and more animals are finding their fur-ever homes," Animal Planet's statement said.
Abbott said there will be little competition between the networks, and neither expects to overshadow Super Bowl XLVIII, which airs on Fox Sports. The three bowls will be televised around the same time on Feb. 2, 2014.
"There is no way anybody will beat the Super Bowl ratings," Abbott said. "We are all playing for a little bit of a different share."
This year, a record 12.4 million people watched during the 12-hour Puppy Bowl X broadcast. By comparison, the Super Bowl was watched by 108.4 million people to become the third most watched show in TV history.
The National Football League also supports the efforts to raise awareness about animals and shelters.
"The Super Bowl brings families together, and we love the idea that it includes the adoption of dogs and cats on Super Bowl Sunday," spokesman Greg Aiello said.
"We love animals here at the NFL, including cats and dogs," spokesman Brian McCarthy added. "We also love Dolphins, Ravens, Bengals, Colts, Jaguars, Broncos, Eagles, Bears, Lions, Falcons, Panthers, Cardinals, Rams and Seahawks."