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“The Complete Jane Austen”

Since 1971, Masterpiece Theatre has defined British period or literary adaptation drama in the U.S. with standouts from Upstairs Downstairs and I, Claudius to The Forsyte Saga and Prime Suspect. The U.S.’s longest running primetime drama series has won Emmys, Golden Globes, Peabodys, and received BAFTA and Academy Award nominations. Research also showed that Masterpiece Theatre translated directly into local PBS member support. Despite this, the anthology drama series was facing competition from HBO and other distributors and was struggling for funding. To gather unvarnished brand assessments, the series conducted audience focus groups and interviewed PBS stations, TV critics, and funders. While people found the programming of extremely high quality, they had trouble finding it and sometimes were put off by its stodgy on-air presentation. 

In response, Azure Media’s principal created an “It Girl” persona for the new brand, representing the aspirations of the next generation of clever women of the 21st century and identified a new target audience of younger women, to be reached on digital platforms. Masterpiece Theatre refreshed the brand by dropping the “Theatre” in the name and changed the series’ visual and aural identity. The launch vehicle for the brand refresh was The Complete Jane Austen – a film festival of Austen’s entire oeuvre. Designed by Azure’s principal, Masterpiece’s launch campaign integrated publicity, events, and digital marketing. To engage rabid Austen fans, the series partnered with the Jane Austen Society for online and on-the-ground events, including a Miramax Becoming Jane event with Anne Hathaway. The mini-series’ publicity and online audience engagement were unprecedented. The New York Times set the stage with a major story about the series’ launch. Premiere night’s broadcast of Persuasion boosted the series’ ratings over the previous season by 71%. The Complete Jane Austen doubled the audience of 18-to-49 women and increased males in that demo by 50%. Masterpiece eventually picked up a full slate of underwriters. With her makeover and ongoing stellar, brand-defining programming like Downton Abbey, Upstairs Downstairs, and All Creatures Great and Small, Masterpiece has become the “It Girl” of period television drama.

“With the on-air look, social media, and publicity of The Complete Jane Austen, we were laying the groundwork for the phenomena of Sherlock and Downton Abbey.”

-- Rebecca Eaton, former executive producer, Masterpiece

Downton Abbey
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