Transmedia Beat: Bernie Su’s “Emma Approved” Monetization Secrets

on Thursday, Feb. 27th

Disclosure: I’m one of the organizers of Transmedia LA, so take any excessive positivity with a grain of salt. The intention here isn’t to toot that group’s horn, but to share what was on display with a wider audience.

Last night’s Transmedia LA meetup in Culver City was an eye-opening affair on a number of levels. Not only did Emmy winner Bernie Su–co-creator and showrunner of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Emma Approved–share copious details of how he’s managed to monetize transmedia storytelling, but the assembled crowd had some seriously on-point questions.

First up, some of my notes on what Bernie shared.

The producer that the transmedia projects he’s created under the Pemberly Digital have had a major revolution in the way they make money from the first series Lizzie Bennet to the currently running Emma Approved. Both series are adaptations of Jane Austen novels.

Whereas Lizzie Bennet managed to make money thanks to YouTube advertising, merchandizing and a degree of product integration it didn’t produce money from every channel the series played out on. This time around, despite having only 80% of the audience of the first series, Emma Approved is pulling in five times the cash. Every platform is being monetized.

Of particular interest is the way the show is making money off affiliate links to products integrated into the show. They go about this subtly. Characters don’t call out the products that are being integrated, but links to the clothing that certain characters where can be found down in the YouTube channel notes or at the home site of the show. The thing about YouTube viewers is that they follow up on those seemingly hidden links. Sales figures in the five figures can be generated off just one appearance of a blouse or purse on the show.

This is the future that some marketers dreamed of in the 90s for television.

Just as surprising for the audience, and Su, were the numbers around the Lizzie Bennet Kickstarter campaign. Over $450,000 was pledged for a DVD edition of a series that is available for free, on the Internet, for perpetuity. Assuming that YouTube is around forever, that is.

Almost as interesting as the details Su served up were the level of insight that came from the audience. It was a mostly new crowd at the event last night, but that didn’t mean there were a bunch of “What’s transmedia?” questions. In fact, that old canard didn’t come up at all. The crowd took the term as given and ran with detailed queries about how the series structured the writer’s room, where production resources were deployed, and what kind of audience engagement metrics were available.

Su showed off some of the later in real time by logging into the Pemberly Digital YouTube account and splashing the graphs up on the screen. That’s a level of openness you don’t see from TV executives.

As someone who has been observing the transmedia scene here in Los Angeles for the past three years the questions last night felt like a tipping point. The crowd on hand–and remember this was mostly first time attendees–had the lingo of web series and transmedia engagement down. Given that the meetup is focused on transmedia you’d think that would be standard operating procedure, but it has actually been rare.

This is just anecdotal evidence pulled from a self-selecting pool, but I’m beginning to get the sense that the logic of new media and transmedia have arrived in LA.

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