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Case Study: How “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” creator has changed the face of storytelling

Posted by Betsy Farber on September 17th, 2013 at 3:11 pm

Bernie Su, executive producer, writer, and director of the innovative web series “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries" -- a modern web adaptation of the Jane Austen classic “Pride and Prejudice” -- thinks of himself as, simply, a storyteller.  He just picked up an Interactive Media Emmy for the 150 episodes of the show, which span five YouTube channels that have amassed 40 million views to date. The show, which had a record breaking Kickstarter campaign, has a presence on 35 social media platforms.

Speaking at the iMedia Entertainment Summit in Hollywood, Su said he sees the show as the “true definition of web,” because it uses all platforms -- primarily video -- to tell an enhanced story. “The show is really about social sharing,” he says.  The army of fans he has managed to assemble is even able to manipulate the plot based on their feedback, comments, and tweets.  For instance, two characters that were purely used for plot development in the book grew such a large fan following through social media that fans asked to see more of them in the web series. Although it was a gamble, Su wanted to see if this kind of plot development could be effective. He produced six spin-off episodes, with little overhead, featuring the two characters, that resulted in 1 million views in three weeks. “The risk paid off,” he says, because in the end he gave loyal fans what they wanted -- which is priceless from a marketing standpoint.

He attributes his audience development and building strategy to being able to identify not just who the super fans are, but the type that they are. By doing so, he is better able to bring the fans to the story. The characters tweet as the characters and respond in real time. “It’s just genius,” noted interviewer Lori Schwartz.

In terms of monetization, this interactive platform definitely has an advantage. For example, if Su wants to make a film, he would have to make the film before he would have anything to sell. By using social media to interact, the fans dictate what to produce and how the story will develop, which can cut costs. He has revenue streams that include advertising, merchandising, affiliate marketing, and expansion of into an alternate format (novelization). He has even managed to make and sell 5,000 DVDs -- because that’s what the fans requested.

Su plans to take “Emma,” another Jane Austen novel, and adapt it in the same way. It's another testament to giving his audience what it wants.  Storyteller, producer, writer, director, artist -- whatever you want to call this mastermind -- he has revolutionized the way audiences interact with and receive content.

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