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One and a half years ago, the Russian movie industry found itself in a tricky situation. When Hollywood’s major studios withdrew their movies from the country’s market, both cinemas and online streaming platforms lost access to many films. However, in the past year, the movie industry in Russia has adapted to the new reality and local streaming services have met with particular success. While movie theater statistics still fall short of pre-pandemic figures, the interest in online streaming services has been rapidly growing. In 2023, these platforms added a record number of titles to their media libraries. We explore how Russia’s streaming platforms have adapted their business model to the new reality and what Russian audiences are watching today. 

The background story 

In March 2022, when Russia was hit by unprecedented sanctions, major Hollywood studios joined the boycott and announced that they are leaving the Russian market. These were Disney, Universal, Warner Bros, and Paramount Pictures – the ‘Big Four’ motion picture companies that produce all big-budget movies in the US. Smaller motion picture companies did not leave the Russian market, and movies such as ‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ by Lionsgate studio, ‘Everything, Everywhere, All at Once’, and ‘Beau Is Afraid’ by A24 were shown in Russia. However, audiences was deprived of the chance to watch major US releases. 

A few months later, the sanctions also affected Russian online streaming platforms. After the existing contracts expired, almost all the movies produced by major motion picture companies disappeared from Russian streaming services. These included the Marvel Cinematic Universe, ‘Star Wars’, ‘Lord of the Rings’, and ‘Harry Potter’ movies, DC comics movies, ‘The Fast and the Furious’ and ‘Mission Impossible’ film series, and many other popular motion pictures. Admittedly, some older Hollywood blockbusters were still available – for example, ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’. But the movie is over 30 years old, and apparently, its availability in Russia is guaranteed by lifetime contracts signed years ago. 

The share of Hollywood content on Russian streaming platforms was once 30% on average. It is important to note that not all Russian streaming services offered a wide variety of foreign films. While platforms such as Kinopoisk and Ivi boasted an impressive selection of Hollywood movies, others – such as Start, Premier, and More.tv – focused on original series, so there were fewer US blockbusters on these platforms. 

However, while Hollywood’s big motion picture companies left Russia, US cinema has not completely disappeared from Russian streaming platforms. The US has a well-developed movie industry and every year, many independent films produced by smaller studios are released. Even in light of severe sanctions, these studios continued to do business and conclude contracts with Russia. For example, Russian viewers were able to see the above mentioned films ‘Beau Is Afraid’ and ‘Everything, Everywhere and All at Once’, Guy Ritchie’s ‘The Translator’ and ‘Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre’, the horror film ‘Talk to Me’, and many others.

US cinema does not end with Hollywood’s Big Four studios which annually release multimillion-dollar blockbusters. Since independent cinema is quite popular in the US, filmmakers feel at ease and have the opportunity to shoot many different films. 

How are things today?

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

RT

According to Telecom Daily, from January 2022 to January 2023, Russian streaming platforms experienced a 7% drop in content – from 31,800 titles to 29,700. But by November 1, 2023, their media libraries had grown to include 31,900 titles. So on average, there’s now even more content on these platforms than there had been before the sanctions. And the dynamics show that the media libraries of Russian streaming platforms will continue to grow. 

Two factors in particular have contributed to this successful trend – the purchase of films and TV series from other countries (which have not imposed sanctions), and the growing number of domestically produced TV series.

Who has come to replace Hollywood?

According to the TelecomDaily statistics, new foreign movies and TV series are added to the media libraries of Russian streaming platforms on a constant basis. South Korean, Turkish, and Indian motion pictures have replaced US blockbusters and popular TV series by major studios. China is also increasing its presence in the Russian market. This year, Kinopoisk released several Chinese TV series, animated series, and films, and some of them became extremely popular on the platform. 

The number of films and series on Russian streaming platforms has not changed dramatically. Kinopoisk continues to sign contracts with foreign producers and constantly adds titles to its media library.

“From the beginning of 2022 [our media library] has included about 11,000 titles or 79,000 videos (this includes movies, as well as TV series, TV show, and sports events episodes, etc.),” Kinopoisk’s press service told RT. 

Okko Deputy CEO Elvira Dmitrievskaya said Hollywood movies made up only a small part of the platform’s media library, and it was quickly replaced by other content.

RT

“We quickly made up for these losses with original content, we’ve added more Russian movies, as well as Turkish and Korean TV series,” Dmitrievskaya said, according to RBK. “A year and a half or two years ago, the market was completely different. All online platforms were going after exclusive foreign content. Now [they] focus on the production of original series and invest in Russian films, because in one way or another, four out of five subscribers watch domestic content.”

The Premier streaming service sticks to the same principles, and has added many Turkish TV series and films to its media library. 

Original production

Expanding the media library with foreign content is just a small part of the overall strategy. The main focus for Russian streaming platforms is the production of original TV series and movies. Most platforms produce about three original series per year, and considering co-production, that number is considerably higher. It would take several years to watch all the Russian TV series that have been released online since 2018.

The platforms also produce feature films and documentary projects. Premier is currently the leading platform in terms of documentary film projects. Its media library includes about 30 original and over 50 co-produced documentaries and TV series. 

There is no shortage of Russian content on the platforms, since just like in any other country, viewers prefer domestic films and TV series. The current situation clearly demonstrates this. Therefore, many online platforms focus on releasing original series. 

“KION originals are a flagship project on our streaming service – over 70% of the platform’s users watch them. Since the platform was launched, KION has released 70 original projects,” MTS Media CEO Aleksey Ivanov told RT. “Among the latest noteworthy projects that have been popular with audiences are ‘Life on Call 2’ – a drama about the escort service; ‘Kidney 2’ – a comedy-drama starring Lyubov Aksenova; the documentary ‘Anonymous Telegram Channels’, and others.”

Premier told RT that Russian content prevails on the platform, which also attracts viewers by releasing new original series. 

RT

“Our audience comes to Premier primarily in search of original series such as: ‘Peace! Friendship! Chewing Gum!’, ‘The Epidemic’, ‘Kill Rita’, as well as original documentary projects and TV shows and programs produced by channels TNT, Friday!, TV-3, and Match TV, which are available exclusively on Premier,” the platform’s press service told RT.

The platform’s representatives 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 it was launched, the platform started producing original content. 

“Since domestic movie and TV series production has picked up speed and increased in volume, the share of domestic content in the Kinopoisk catalog has gradually increased over the years, and now exceeds 40%,” 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 watched [content on] Kinopoisk per month, which is 1,5 times more [viewers] than in the same period last year.”

Kion’s statistics have also surged. 

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

The history of Russian streaming services 

The departure of Hollywood motion picture companies from the Russian market coincided with the rapid growth of Russian streaming services. Until 2018, there were only several media streaming platforms in Russia. The major ones were Ivi and Okko. However, at the end of the last decade, the SVOD (Subscription Video On Demand) format became increasingly popular worldwide. In the US, Netflix became the most popular streaming platform, and was soon followed by others like Apple TV+ and Disney+. 

RT

In Russia, streaming services 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 series ‘House Arrest’ was released, which became the first Russian original series produced by an online streaming platform. 

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

By 2020, all Russian streaming platforms produced original content. New services like Okko and More.tv sprang up in addition to Kinopoisk and Start. In 2021, Kion – another streaming service that was also focused on original production – was launched. 

So by March 2022, the Russian online streaming industry was already well established and was quite popular with viewers.

Also, many people liked watching older series which were released on TV several years ago. This content also became popular when it was added to streaming platforms.

According to Kinopoisk Pro Index**, around two or three Russian series made it to the list of the top 10 most popular series in Russia. After Russia was hit with sanctions, Russian and Turkish TV series became very popular. In 2023, some of the most popular series were ‘Peace! Friendship! Chewing Gum’, ‘Real Boys’, ‘Live Life’, ‘Open Marriage’, and ‘Daddy’s Daughters’. They were complemented by two popular Turkish TV series: ‘Love is in the Air’ and ‘Golden Boy’. 

In the past month, the Start series ‘The Boy’s Word: Blood on the Asphalt’ has become extremely popular. This widely discussed drama has broken all records on Kinopoisk Pro Index.

One and a half years ago, Hollywood motion picture companies withdrew from the Russian market, but this has had no financial impact on the Russian streaming service industry. On the contrary, the sanctions have contributed to the growth of domestically produced movies and original TV series which have met with great success. 

**Kinopoisk Pro Index evaluates TV series popularity based on search engine data such as the number of searches on Yandex and Google and the number of visits and clicks on web pages related to a TV 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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