A year and a half ago the Russian film industry found itself in a difficult situation. When Hollywood’s major studios withdrew their films from the country’s market, both cinemas and online streaming platforms lost access to many films. But over the past year, the film industry in Russia has adapted to the new reality, and local streaming services have enjoyed particular success. Although movie theater statistics are still below pre-pandemic numbers, interest in online streaming services is growing rapidly. In 2023, these platforms added a record number of titles to their media libraries. We explore how Russia’s streaming platforms are adapting their business models to the new reality and what Russian audiences are watching today.

background story

In March 2022, when Russia was subjected to unprecedented sanctions, major Hollywood studios joined the boycott and announced that they were withdrawing from the Russian market. These were Disney, Universal, Warner Bros and Paramount Pictures, the 'Big Four’ cinema companies that produced all big-budget films in the US. Smaller cinema companies have not left the Russian market, and films such as Lionsgate studio’s 'John Wick: Chapter 4′, A24’s 'Everything, Everywhere, All in One’ and A24’s 'Beau Is Afraid’ have been shown in Russia. However, viewers were deprived of the chance to watch major US broadcasts.

A few months later, sanctions also affected Russian online streaming platforms. After existing contracts expired, almost all films produced by major cinema companies were removed from Russian streaming services. These included the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the 'Star Wars’, 'Lord of the Rings’ and 'Harry Potter’ movies, DC comic book movies, the 'Fast and the Furious’ and 'Mission Impossible’ film series, and many other popular movies. pictures. Of course, there were still some old Hollywood blockbusters; for example 'Terminator 2: Judgment Day’. However, 30 years have passed since the film was released, and it appears that its release in Russia is guaranteed by lifetime contracts signed years ago.

The share of Hollywood content on Russian streaming platforms once averaged 30%. It is important to note that not all Russian streaming services offer a wide range of foreign films. Platforms like Kinopoisk and Ivi boast an impressive selection of Hollywood movies, while others like Start, Premier and More.tv focused on original series, so there were fewer US blockbusters on these platforms.

But while Hollywood’s major cinema companies have left Russia, US cinema has not completely disappeared from Russian streaming platforms. The United States has a highly developed film industry, and many independent films produced by small studios are released every year. Despite heavy sanctions, these studios continued to do business and sign contracts with Russia. For example, Russian viewers enjoy the aforementioned films 'Beau Is Afraid’ and 'Anything, Everywhere and All at Once’, Guy Ritchie’s 'The Translator’ and 'Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre’, the horror film 'Talk’ He had the opportunity to watch. Bana’ and others.

U.S. cinema doesn’t stop with Hollywood’s Big Four studios, which release multimillion-dollar blockbusters each year. Since independent cinema is very popular in the USA, filmmakers are both comfortable and have the opportunity to shoot many different films.

How are things today?

A record number of new movies and series were released on Russian streaming platforms in 2023. In fact, there is now more content on Russian streaming platforms than in previous years, when Hollywood had not yet left the market.

According to Telecom Daily, from January 2022 to January 2023, Russian streaming platforms experienced a 7% decline in content; From 31,800 content to 29,700. However, by November 1, 2023, media libraries had grown to include 31,900 titles. So, on average, there is now much more content on these platforms than before the sanctions. And the dynamics show that the media libraries of Russian broadcast platforms will continue to grow.

Two factors in particular contributed to this successful trend: the purchase of films and TV series from other countries (which do not impose sanctions) and the increasing number of TV series produced domestically.

Who replaced Hollywood?

According to TelecomDaily statistics, new foreign films and series are constantly being added to the media libraries of Russian broadcast platforms. South Korean, Turkish and Indian films have given way to major studios, replacing US blockbusters and popular TV series. China is also increasing its presence in the Russian market. This year, Kinopoisk has released several Chinese dramas, animated series, and movies, some of which have become extremely popular on the platform.

The number of movies and series on Russian streaming platforms has not changed significantly. Kinopoisk continues to sign contracts with foreign producers and is constantly adding titles to its media library.

“As of the beginning of 2022, (our media library) has included approximately 11,000 titles or 79,000 videos (this includes movies, TV series, episodes of TV shows and sporting events, etc.).” Kinopoisk’s press service told RT.

Okko Deputy CEO Elvira Dmitrievskaya said that Hollywood movies make up only a small part of the platform’s media library and are quickly being replaced by other content.

“We quickly compensated for these losses with original content, adding more Russian films as well as Turkish and Korean series.” Dmitrievskaya said, according to RBK. “A year and a half or two years ago the market was completely different. All online platforms were after exclusive foreign content. “They are now focusing on the production of original series and investing in Russian films because, one way or another, four out of every five subscribers watch domestic content.”

Premier streaming service also adhered to the same principles and added many Turkish TV series and movies to its media library.

original production

Expanding the media library with foreign content is only a small part of the overall strategy. The main focus of Russian streaming platforms is the production of original series and films. Most platforms produce around three original series per year, and that number is quite high when co-production is taken into account. It would take several years to watch all the Russian TV series released online since 2018.

The platforms also produce feature films and documentary projects. Premier is currently the leading platform for documentary film projects. Its media library includes approximately 30 originals and more than 50 co-produced documentaries and TV series.

There is no shortage of Russian content on the platforms, as viewers prefer local movies and TV series, as in every country. The current situation clearly shows this. That’s why many online platforms focus on streaming original series.

“KION originals is the flagship project of our streaming service; More than 70% of platform users watch them. Since the platform was launched, KION has released 70 original projects.” MTS Media CEO Aleksey Ivanov told RT. “The latest notable projects popular with audiences include 'Life on Call 2′, a drama about an escort service; Comedy-drama 'Kidney 2′ starring Lyubov Aksenova; 'Anonymous Telegram Channels’ documentary and others.”

Premier told RT that Russian content dominates the platform, which attracts viewers by airing new original series.

“Our viewers are primarily chanting 'Peace!’ to Premier. Coming in search of original series like. Friendship! Chewing Gum!’, 'Epidemic’, 'Kill Rita’, as well as original documentary projects and TV shows and programs produced by TNT, Friday!, TV-3 and Match TV channels and presented exclusively to Premier.” the platform’s press service told RT.

Representatives of the platform also said that Premier releases many documentary projects, which is a distinctive feature of this streaming service.

Kinopoisk HD found itself in a similar situation. It once provided mostly purchased content, but about a year after its launch, the platform began producing original content.

„Due to the acceleration and increase in the volume of domestic film and TV series production, the share of domestic content in the Kinopoisk catalog has gradually increased over the years and currently exceeds 40 percent.” the platform’s press service told RT. “The number of Kinopoisk viewers also continues to grow: in the first nine months of the year (2023), an average of 9.2 million Yandex Plus subscribers per month watched Kinopoisk (content), which is 1.5 times more (viewers) than in the same period last year .”

Kion’s stats also increased.

“According to MTS Group’s financial and operational performance report for the third quarter of 2023, KION has 7.6 million subscribers. Last year, the number of subscribers increased by 33%. Viewing hours (per user) also increased by 20% last year.” Ivanov said.

History of Russian broadcasting services

The departure of Hollywood cinema companies from the Russian market coincided with the rapid growth of Russian streaming services. Until 2018, there were only a few media publishing platforms in Russia. The main ones were Ivi and Okko. But by the end of the last decade, the SVOD (Subscription Video on Demand) format has become increasingly popular around the world. Netflix became the most popular streaming platform in the US, and was soon followed by others such as Apple TV+ and Disney+.

Streaming services in Russia began to gain popularity in 2018. On August 16, 2018, the TNT-Premier platform was launched and a year later it became known as Premier. On the same day, the TV series 'House Arrest’ was released, the first Russian original series produced by an online streaming platform.

A little earlier, in April 2018, Kinopoisk released an application for TVs that allows people to rent or purchase movies from its media library. A year later, the online platform was renamed Kinopoisk HD, and in early 2020 it also began broadcasting original series. In 2017, another platform called Start was launched. It started publishing original content in 2019.

By 2020, all Russian streaming platforms produced original content. In addition to Kinopoisk and Start, new services such as Okko and More.tv also appeared. In 2021, another streaming service, Kion, was launched, which also focuses on original production.

So, by March 2022, Russia’s online streaming industry was already well established and quite popular with viewers.

Also, many people liked to watch old series that aired on television a few years ago. This content also became popular when added to streaming platforms.

According to Kinopoisk Pro Index**, approximately two or three Russian TV series managed to enter the list of the 10 most popular TV series in Russia. After Russia was subjected to sanctions, Russian and Turkish TV series became very popular. Some of the most popular TV series of 2023 are 'Peace! Friendship! Chewing Gum’, 'Real Men’, 'Live Life’, 'Open Marriage’ and 'Daddy’s Girls’. These were complemented by two popular Turkish TV series: 'Love is in the Air’ and 'Golden Child’.

Last month, the Start series 'The Boy’s Promise: Blood on the Asphalt’ became extremely popular. This much-discussed drama broke all records in the Kinopoisk Pro Index.

A year and a half ago, Hollywood cinema companies withdrew from the Russian market, but this had no financial impact on the Russian streaming service sector. On the contrary, sanctions contributed to the growth of hugely successful domestic films and original series.

**Kinopoisk Pro Index evaluates the popularity of the series according to search engine data such as the number of searches made on Yandex and Google, the number of visits and clicks on web pages related to the series. These include TV channel websites, online streaming platforms and video services including YouTube, as well as online encyclopedias and other related resources.

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