How Pemberley Digital Plans to Change Online Video

/ Oct 7, 2013

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#DarcyDay

But before Hank Green and Bernie Su could move on to new projects under the Pemberley umbrella, they had some unfinished business with “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.” Specifically, almost exactly three-fifths into the show’s 100-episode run, the series had yet to reveal, on camera, William Darcy — Lizzie’s love interest.

The day the creators chose to finally put the character in front of the camera became known as Darcy Day — maybe the show’s biggest moment (outside of that Emmy win).

“The first time I launch a show, whenever I see a GIF on Tumblr, I feel like the show’s made it,” says Green. “People care about the show enough to make a GIF.”

The Darcy episode did more than that — it not only trended on Tumblr and Twitter, but the build-up to the reveal created enough excitement that some fans of the show decided to dress up to mark the occasion.

That wasn’t all — the episode also increased the viewership for the entire show, according to Green and Su. “People were talking about it so much, we had people watching the first few episodes, trying to catch up,” says Green. That should read familiar to anyone who followed the ratings for AMC’s “Breaking Bad” the past few months. So should this:

Before Darcy Day, new episodes of LBD generally averaged 60,000-70,000 views within the first 24 hours. After Darcy Day, that number grew to 110,000 views. It really changed the dynamic, according to Su, who says that by the end, the new episodes were averaging 150,000 views in the first 24 hours. By the end, the show had captured over 40 million views, more than 815,000 monthly uniques, more than 415,000 subscribers, and, of course, a Creative Arts Emmy.

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“Emma Approved”

Once Pemberley Digital became a reality, the studio’s own story wasn’t going to end with “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.” The creators had built a format that was highly successful and — they hoped — repeatable.

For Pemberley’s second project under DECA, Su says it was obvious that the creators needed to target the same demo — women under 25. “Ninety percent of our audience is women, and 70% are women under 25,” he says. So when looking for another property to adapt, the creators landed on another Jane Austen novel, “Emma.” “The Emma character is my favorite,” says Su. “I wanted to do a show about her, and it really fits DECA’s model, though DECA never said we needed to do one that was great for its network.”

Su says he wants to turn the Emma in “Emma Approved” into a DECA-like online personality — one who offers advice on “lifestyle, love, and empowerment.” This means Emma will also be a monetizable brand. “Our Emma is an ambitious young woman (who might not always be right),” says Su. So the character’s “360 experience” will include things she recommends — things that are “Emma Approved.” And this will span the social universe that the creators build around the series. For example, maybe Emma takes a picture of a dress she likes and posts it to her Instagram or blog — which will then link to where one can actually buy that item.

It’s not a new concept for Su, who used affiliate marketing within LBD to drive product sales and additional revenue. Though with Emma, who is being developed as a fashion-centric character — an Oprah for the YouTube age, as Su describes her — these sort of integrations will feel even more natural. And according to Michael Wayne, DECA is already “evaluating a couple of integration opportunities.”

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The Future of Pemberley

Unlike “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries,” Emma might live on beyond what Green and Su have planned for the character on YouTube.

“Bernie and Hank have formatted ‘Emma Approved’ in such a way that the story does not have to end the moment Austen’s book does,” says David Tochterman. In fact, it’s possible that the creators extend the franchise to TV.

In fact, I’m told Pemberley is involved in “several active conversations” about developing full-length TV episodes of “Emma Approved,” which would run via a second window, whether that’s on domestic or international TV.

And unlike what you normally see with web-to-TV transitions, this would not be a matter of the creators simply repackaging existing YouTube content to TV-length 22-minute or 44-minute episodes. It would be entirely fresh content. The idea then would be for the team to use the YouTube channel and audience to drive the viewership the show has already built up to this new programming.

Nothing has been finalized yet, but it appears Pemberley definitely has its sights set on a long-form project in the future.

What’s, based on the success of LBD, Pemberley has closed a two-book deal with Simon & Schuster to create adaptations of Pemberley projects (yep, that would be book-video-book) — the “perfect example” of a web series generating additional revenue streams beyond YouTube, according to Tochterman.

Hank Green wants to build up online video as a unique medium for storytelling. Most people view online video today, he argues, as a stepping stone to traditional film and television. “That’s not going to grow internet video as a medium,” he says. So when telling the story of Pemberley Digital, he thinks it has less to do with how the studio was able to receive funding and monetize, and more to do with how “telling a story in a new and different way is exactly as legitimate” as the traditional way. “In fact, in many ways, it’s more cool and interesting.”

Emma Approved” premieres today on YouTube.

PREVIOUS: The Beginning of LBD and Pemberley Digital

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