The Economist has a reputation to maintain – but it might not be the one you expect.
The newspaper was founded in 1843 to “take part in a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress”.
So despite a 170 year plus existence, the newspaper has a reputation and mission statement that favours futurism.
And the future is decidedly in online video.
— Garrett Goodman (@GarrettGoodman) March 16, 2016
Adam Smith is deputy community editor at The Economist. He explains how its mission statement is informing its online video output – and why social video is key to its future:
“Our videos are seen by millions on Facebook but… we have a long way to go in showing the world we can do video. That’s where social comes in.
“Multimedia in general is important to us because we know from our data that someone is more likely to subscribe to the Economist if they have sampled the breadth of our content.”
That increase in discoverability is especially vital for The Economist because its business model is dependent on its 1.5 million print and digital subscribers.
Speaking at news:rewired, Smith notes that while the newspaper is “seen as a trusted filter on world affairs” and a champion of personal and economic freedom, it isn’t that well known. While most of its content consumers are in the United States, for instance, fully 60 percent of the population of America hasn’t heard of the newspaper.
“We know that video can be very popular. It allows us to distribute our content in a different format… and it increases awareness of our brand. Videos are social native content for us.
“Videos tend to be do better on Facebook than other things… the writing is still at the forefront of what the Economist does [but] when it comes to Facebook we’ve seen videos outperforming those articles.”
But as with most publications whose core product is shifting from text to a video format, The Economist has had to go through an iterative process as it learned what videos could expand its reach while remaining true to its brand.
Smith describes one of the earlier attempts to do online video on The Economist as following an “old school TV” model in which well-known figures were invited into the office for a chat and a cup of tea.
Since then, though, the team (roughly 10-strong on the social side) has refined what its video proposition should be:
“We started to do explainer videos. These were based on our very popular explainer blog. We’re still making them; they’re still popular.”
But last year also saw the launch of The Economist Films, which are longer-form documentaries of the sort you might associate with VICE News or RYOT. Smith describes The Economist’s approach to that division as being ‘very strategic’ and already approaching its 5,000,000th views target for the entire series and which offers The Economist a new revenue model through subscriptions.
But even with an increase in the variety of videos which The Economist produces, it still has some hurdles to jump. Its main YouTube channel – its primary means of distribution at the moment – only has 145,000 subscribers. That’s partly why Smith says The Economist is doubling down on its social video strategy.
“As far as the viewer is concerned I don’t mind where this content comes from. I want these videos to be put on social; they [the audience] don’t mind where on The Economist it comes from.
“We want to be doing more Facebook Live stuff. The point is that we have 6m fans on Facebook, the fans are there and they will then share it themselves. YouTube is a social network and the website is not at the moment.”
So while The Economist, by the admission of its deputy community editor, still has a way to go before it’s achieved its demonstrable potential for distributing high-quality online video to the masses, it’s evident that it will do so by remaining true to its 170 year old mission statement.