Downton Abbey Inspires an App?

How do I begin 2016?

Big Data?



Need it now?

More mobile?



More on Star Wars and Adele?


Instead I opted for a great story. One that encompasses everything that I love and admire about the age we live in and an age that is past.

2016 begins the sixth and final season of Downton Abbey…or I should say, begins it in the United States, as the series has already moved on in the UK, as it ended there on Christmas Day 2015…a most fitting day to conclude what many have seen as a gift. My wife and I included…

If you haven’t seen it…try it. It’s addictive…not in the way binge watching video can be…but more in the way that we return to great stories and experience them again and again with the knowledge that we won’t be let down, because the story will sustain us…like Star Wars with butlers (C-3PO…hello!!!).

A runaway hit since it debuted on PBS in 2011, Downton Abbey — a Carnival/MASTERPIECE co-production — is widely credited with reigniting American viewers’ passion for British drama. It is the top PBS drama of all time, the most popular series in MASTERPIECE’s 44-year history, and one of the most-watched dramas on American television, frequently beating the competition in its Sunday night time slot. MASTERPIECE is presented on PBS by WGBH Boston.

But there is more. Way more beyond being the most nominated British production in US Emmy history and one of the most awarded productions of any kind.

And way more beyond becoming an “indelible part of US and Global popular culture, parodied by Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert, and on ‘Sesame Street’ and ‘Saturday Night Live.’ It has been the topic of countless discussions on Twitter and Facebook, and has garnered as much publicity as any series,” ever…

More importantly and to the point…Downton Abbey was a driver of digital sharing and a benefactor of digital streaming, and proof positive that Digital is Everything, but not Everything is Digital…

Season 5, which concluded on March 1, was seen by 25.5 million people. The season had a weekly average audience of 12.9 million viewers over its nine-week run, an audience nearly even with that for Season 4 (13.3 million) (Source: Nielsen Live+7 data). “Downton Abbey, Season 5” had impressive online streaming numbers as well, with over 12.6 million streams of full episodes across all PBS and station digital platforms, 13 percent more streams compared to Season 4 (Source: Google Analytics, 1/5-3/15/15). A huge presence on social media, “Downton Abbey” set records for tweets of a PBS show, with Season 5 generating more than 190,000 total tweets and more than 24 million total impressions (Source: Nielsen, 1/4/15 to 3/1/15, live/new). During its nine-week run, “Downton Abbey” placed in Nielsen Social’s Daily Top 5 for series and specials seven times (Source: Nielsen, 1/4/15 to 3/1/15).

And I might add – this was not an ephemeral audience tweeting or commenting on some gaff, fad, comment or joke…this was an involved and engaged audience. The kind of audience marketers dream about, who care about the content, who are thoughtful about the story and who return with love.

However, what made me decide to open the 2016 Ramble with Downton Abbey was not its end but the continuing storytelling of its creator, Julian Fellowes.

And here you have it:

Mr. Fellowes, the creator of the hit historical British melodrama “Downton Abbey,” has worked on screenplays, stage plays, novels and a children’s book. He wrote the book for “School of Rock,” a raucous new Broadway musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber adapted from the 2003 Richard Linklater movie, and he is working on his new NBC series ‘The Gilded Age,’ set in New York in the late 19th century.

Now, for his next project, “Belgravia,” Mr. Fellowes is marrying an old narrative form — the serialized novel, in the tradition of Charles Dickens’s ‘The Pickwick Papers’ — with the latest digital delivery system: an app.

An app. I will forgo the Digibabble aspects – my readers know my POV and will no doubt have their own view as well. I only point out that the form is tried and true, as is the delivery system, app aside…it is digital delivery of a book – chapter by chapter – with a cost that is actually fairly high – in short, nothing new here – except, and it is a big except…a huge except – the ability to marry video; deep period content including music and fashion…in short, all of the information and background color that we all crave in a great story and that in a bygone age we looked up assiduously in our offline sources (the only ones we had), and today that send us right to a search.

And let me reiterate – as you may rightly point out, that it has been done before too – but I will quickly retort: not with a great story by a great storyteller. It has been done for the sake of Digibabble and not for the sake of you and me…dear reader.

The app part is perfect – think book, not app – until someone aggregates all of them – and more of them are coming – and we will have a “serial” app. Or a “magazine” will commission some – like the old days, to drive readership and engagement – some things never change…

In short, this is what our world should be – we need to lose the self-conscious way we talk about technology – as if the technology is the point – and strive for seamless integration into our lives…and as I have written before – just look at what is successful versus where the ground is littered with the detritus of the latest greatest, and I am ready to bet that what works is what is natural and an extension of who and what we are.

Great storytelling drives engagement, not technology. Great storytelling with great production drives viewing. Great storytelling with values and drama drives sharing. The common denominator is great storytelling…the rest follows and evolves by the times we are in and the needs and wants of our audiences as they read, listen and view.

So for some this will be the year of the drone; for others the year of ever more data and for still others the year of virtual reality and on and on…

My thought is to learn from Downton Abbey – make it the year of true and deep engagement…Listen:

“The two most engaging powers of an author are to make new things familiar, familiar things new.” William Makepeace Thackeray

Could there possibly be a better description of what we need for our times? A better thought to help make sense of the Digibabble? A better prescription for success in marketing as we sort out the newfound powers of the times?

I would posit that all of the great, successful digital innovations of our time have made new things familiar and, by the same token, they have made the old and familiar new…

Think on it.

What do you think?

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