Interview With Tom Standage Deputy Editor, The Economist

With their recent move into video, Tom talks us through their strategy


The Economist has become synonymous with high quality written content and are undoubtedly one of the best respected publications in the world. To maximize this and with an aim to make more multi-platform content, they have successfully moved into creating online videos. 

With this move comes a shift in their digital strategy and we spoke to Tom Standage, Deputy Editor at the company and a driving force behind this new approach about the moves and how The Economist is making the most of the new content being created. 

Tom is Deputy Editor at The Economist, overseeing its strategy and output on digital platforms, including the web, apps and social media. He previously served as Business Affairs Editor, Business Editor, Technology Editor and Science Correspondent. Tom is also the author of six history books, including “Writing on the Wall: Social Media—The First 2,000 Years”, the New York Times bestseller “A History of the World in Six Glasses” (2005), and “The Victorian Internet” (1998), a history of the telegraph.

IE - Most publishers want to make their video content shorter, but your methodology seems to be the opposite. What made you come to this conclusion? Will you start incorporating short-form videos into your strategy?

Tom - We decided that 15 minutes was the right length for films that let us dig into a topic properly, while still being short enough to work on YouTube, smartphones and so on. That said, we do also make short explainer videos, which are typically two minutes long. In future we want to make longer films, too. At the moment we’re working on our first 30-minute film, on our predictions for 2016. So there’s no single answer. It’s all about matching the right format to the audience and the platform. That’s something we, along with everyone else, are still learning about. It’s a moving target.

Your video content is currently ad free. Do you think this will change?

The model for Economist Films is based on sponsorship, rather than advertising. We plan to partner with sponsors for subsequent series, while still retaining our editorial independence. (Global Compass, our first series, is sponsored by Virgin Unite, the charitable arm of the Virgin Group.) Again, this is an area where models are very much in flux. But that’s what makes this such a good time to enter the video arena: everything is up for grabs.

What are your key strategies for content distribution?

Initially, through our own channels (web and apps) and via social media. But we’re also looking at licensing content for use on other distribution platforms, and in the long run we want to be on broadcast channels and on-demand platforms too. So this is just the first step.

Which platform have you found brings most awareness to your video content?

At the moment we’re getting the most traction on Facebook, where we have 10m followers. But YouTube is probably a more natural platform for these kinds of films, and we’re working to build up our presence there. It helps when our fans share our films with their friends—as Bill Gates did with our film on malaria earlier this year! That was great, because it meant lots who people saw the film who aren’t existing Economist followers or readers. Ultimately our aim is to establish The Economist as a distinctive and authoritative voice in video, not just in the written word.

Watch their first film 'Prisons: Breaking the Cycle'


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