The Economist’s video strategy shifts focus to YouTube

The Economist Films division gets most of its views on Facebook, but like other publishers, it’s turning its attention to YouTube, where audiences tend to be more loyal and engaged than on Facebook.

The 20-plus person division began in mid-2015 with a focus on long-form series, like entrepreneur-focused “The Hub,” backed by Santander, and “The World in 2018,” supported by Thomson Reuters. This year, The Economist also started releasing three editorial videos a week, lasting under five minutes, like this on the gender pay gap or this on foreign aid distribution.

Recently, the publisher hired two staffers to focus solely on driving more engagement on Facebook and YouTube. They’re adapting short videos to both platforms, with attention-grabbing questions on the opening scene, such as, “Is this the world’s most powerful man?” for this video about China president Xi Jinping. The Economist has also started using YouTube’s end cards, which link to an additional piece of Economist content at the end of the video.

The effort is starting to pay off on YouTube. Since June, the subscriber count has grown nearly 140 percent, to about 400,000. In November, the average viewer watched 75 percent of each film posted, up 44 percent from June. Discovery has also grown: Since June, there’s been a 190 percent increase in views from YouTube’s homepage, according to the publisher. (It hasn’t supplied a total number of views.)

Facebook accounted for 83 percent of The Economist’s 20 million video views in November, according to Tubular Labs, and while it’s useful in introducing new audiences to the publisher, Facebook has been under scrutiny for its measurement mishaps and seemingly short three-second views. As more advertisers demand to know the true value of a view, YouTube will be more of a focus in the new year. The publisher is also in conversation with platform distributors like Amazon, Facebook, Samsung and Netflix.

“[YouTube] is where the engaged opportunity is,” said Jamie Credland, svp of strategy and marketing at The Economist Group. “We historically haven’t invested much on YouTube because the path to subscription isn’t as clear there as on other platforms. As the film ecosystem evolves, audiences on YouTube are really engaged.”

Hugo Ward, executive producer at The Economist Films, said videos on YouTube also tend to get more valuable comments, as did this analysis on the Balfour Declaration, which got nearly 700 comments, and this one on the fall of Zimbabwe’s former Prime Minister Robert Mugabe, which got more than 1,000 comments. Since June, the number of comments across all The Economist’s YouTube videos has increased by 228 percent, according to the publisher, which didn’t give a total raw number.

The past year has also been an evolution for The Economist Films’ business operation. It started as a separate division with its own commercial team, but in the past year it’s moved to the same floor as the rest of the company as part of the publisher’s office move, and become integrated into the rest of the company’s ad sales offerings. Now, advertisers have one point of contact for campaign reporting and ad operations, and The Economist Films has access to existing advertisers on The Economist’s roster, like Santander and Credit Suisse, enabling it to run longer and deeper partnerships with brands.

The Economist Films ran five brand-sponsored series this year. Four are part of large, seven-figure campaigns across the group, which typically run between £300,000 ($400,000) and £500,000 ($670,000) for the work the films division creates.

This year, luxury watchmaker Blancpain and EY renewed contracts with The Economist Films. The Economist guarantees 1 million views across platforms for each series paid for by a brand, a benchmark it has always delivered on, Credland said.

Image via The Economist Films

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