Axios, which launched earlier this year with a platform geared toward “smart brevity,” is making a mark as a media disruptor. Politico veterans Jim VandeHei, Mike Allen and Roy Schwartz are behind the project.
A showpiece of the new site is its “Smarter Faster” video series made up of quick but educational interviews with experts on often-controversial topics.
“Our readers and viewers are interested in hearing from trailblazers with innovative ideas leading the top companies and organizations around the world,” says Axios executive vice president Evan Ryan, who conducts a majority of the interviews in the series. “… We make sure to focus on one worthy idea from an influential person in 1:30 or less — and Smarter Faster was born.”
Co-founders VandeHei, Schwartz and Allen created the series, along with managing editor Bubba Atkinson.
Axios casts a broad net to find voices for Smarter Faster, Ryan says. “We are seeking leaders who can offer insights into navigating a particular issue, industry or challenge.”
Sources and subjects have included Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett on “working with the enemy;” former Secretary of State Robert Gates with leadership advice for the Trump administration; and Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove on what’s killing health care in America.
Ryan says that the series’ format “allows our audiences to focus on the most interesting and impactful moments of an interview, and gives them the opportunity to dive deeper and find creative solutions.”
The “smart brevity” of the series is given credence by quick visual evidence of each expert’s credentials, which allows the interviews to move along at a quick, conversational clip without getting bogged in exposition.
Graphics and stats provide backup for the interviewees’ statements.
“The format allows us to have the versatility to convey in-depth, big ideas in a brief amount of time utilizing B-Roll, graphics, data points and audio clips,” Ryan says.
The video series is sponsored by JPMorgan Chase, a business model similar to one used at Politico magazine in its “What Works” series.
In an interview with Digiday before the launch of Axios, VandeHei described the importance of sponsorships to such endeavors: “I think the easiest way right now to monetize video in the serious-news space is to have it sponsored or presented by someone, as opposed to long, tedious pre-roll. A lot of our stuff we’re pushing is all about shorter, smarter, something I have time to watch and can engage with.”
The biggest hurdle to the short, digestible videos is time, Ryan says. From start to finish, each video takes about 40 hours to produce, from booking the interview to writing the questions to editing and adding graphics.
“At the beginning, it was a challenge to explain to our interviewees why we needed 30 minutes of conversation to get to approximately 90 seconds of video,” Ryan says. “Now that the series is ‘out there,’ so-to-speak, they get it.”
Technical details and modifications: “All you need is one idea or comment that sparks,” Ryan says. “The equation for achieving that over and over again at scale is more challenging. A smaller news group could do something similar but would likely need to compromise on production value.”