Economist Magazine Launches Documentary Film Unit

One of the great brands of print news is getting into the video business.

Venerable British newsmagazine the Economist has launched a new documentary unit, Economist Films, and has posted its first two films for free viewing.

Economist Films is beginning with 12-15 minute documentaries with production values comparable to commercial television. In addition to the two short pilots already posted, “Drone Rangers” is the pilot for the “Future Works” series, on people who are already doing the jobs of the future; and “Drugs: War or Store?” is the pilot for the series “Global Compass,” on countries and people pioneering new approaches to social problems. Eight more episodes are in production and scheduled for posting in September.

“We’ve guaranteed around 22 films in our first year,” said Nicholas Minter-Green, president of Economist Films. “One or two of those might be pilots for sort of longer-form content, but at least 20 will be part of regular series.”

Economist editor Tom Standage serves as Economist Films editor-in-chief, working alongside Minter-Green. The company has set up a separate video production unit alongside its existing newsroom. The films side will draw on the expertise and contacts of the print newsroom, and its scripts will be vetted by Economist editors and journalists. “We’re starting with everything in our own control,” said Minter-Green. “It’s our editorial, our production team, creating content to distribute to our own audience on economist.com and social channels. So you know, we start by building credibility to our product by keeping things under our control.”

Minter-Green said that now that the series are launched, the company is open to conversations about distribution on television, VOD and other channels. “As long as the content is high-quality and as good as we want it to be, we’re open to all kinds of conversations about how we’ll reach the widest possible audience for this finished material,” he said.

Minter-Green said the Economist is committed to video going forward. “The Economist now has taken this step change in video, and won’t be going back,” he said. “There’ll be new ways to express it, there’ll be new distribution models, there’ll be various commercial partnerships, but fundamentally, this is only going in one direction.”

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