In one sense, Economist Films are a sort of “gateway drug” for a new audience to The Economist’s other editorial products, including its print edition and daily news app, said Paul Rossi, president of The Economist Group’s media businesses.
But although the video content might be a “soft way in” for people who conceive of The Economist as being intellectually intimidating or a struggle to read, garnering new paid subs isn’t necessarily the goal here, said Minter Green. If video is the only way certain people engage, he said, “they probably would never have engaged with us before without the films.”
“The films are like an additional string to our bow,” he added. “We’re not being overly prescriptive with this stuff. There are a lot of businesses that want to build the power of audience first, and monetization comes much later.”
Economist Films plans to distribute the videos through its own portal at Economist.com/films, but Minter Green expects about 80% of views to come from Facebook and YouTube, with Facebook doing most of the heavy lifting. That said, he’s not too fussed about the particular distribution channels.
“Facebook is a great partner, YouTube is a great partner, but there might be someone else around the corner,” Minter Green said. “We’d like people to come to our portal, but we’re happy for people to experience it on other platforms, as well. We want as many people to watch it as possible, so how it gets distributed is really a means to an end to a certain extent at this stage.”
In terms of brand involvement, Economist Films is actively seeking sponsors for its existing content and commercial partnerships for new series down the line. For now, the business model is free to view and sponsor-driven, but Minter Green was quick to point out that third-party sponsors will not have any control over editorial expression.
Although there are clearly financial considerations at play – “We would not be able to do this if it wasn’t commercially feasible,” said Minton Beddoes – the 172-year-old publisher won’t be compromising its values for profit.
“Even if you don’t have a brand on board, no one can stop you from doing anything,” Minter Green said. “It’s our content, our journalists, our audience, our social community, our choice of channels. The barriers to entry have been shattered.”
The Economist lives in two worlds, one a closed world of paid subscriptions – The Economist has 1.5 million digital and print subs combined – and a second in which freely distributed content is becoming the norm. To survive in that world, publishers need to embrace a hybrid model that combines the two.
“But this is not a brand exercise,” said Chris Stibbs, group chief executive of The Economist Group. “It’s about building the business.”