“Russia has amazing history of story-telling” – Disney CIS chief

­In an exclusive interview, chief of the Walt Disney Company in the CIS, Marina Zhigalova-Ozkan, talks to RT's Sophie Shevardnadze about the peculiarities of the Russian movies market.

RT: More and more Russian films take part in international film festivals. Does this actually mean that movies are becoming a full-fledged business in Russia?

Marina Zhigalova-Ozkan: Well, a few years ago Disney company entered the Russian market, and since then the whole movie industry in Russia picked up, and now the Russian box office is one of the leading in the world for a lot of Disney movies. So I think I can say that movies are a really important and fast-growing market in Russia.

RT: Yet, do you maybe have a feeling that the Disney Company came a little late to the Russian market?

MZ: In our view, it was exactly at the right time. Disney, in order to develop, needs a lot of infrastructure. Let me say a few words about our business in Russia: movies are definitely one of the very important businesses for us, along with movies distribution and production. We are very happy about our first very successful experience with The Book of Masters. We do a lot of consumer products. We do live entertainment shows. We publish books and games. We do sell our programs on a lot of channels. We launched a Disney Channel in Russia. So for all of that to happen the economy needs to be prepared.

RT: So what kind of products does Disney really sell in Russia and the CIS countries?

MZ: We sell multiple consumer products, starting with food, a lot of stationary, obviously games, toys, and others. One of the most important trends, which I would really like to specify, is that during the last two years the amount of products that we produce in Russia for the Russian audience tripled. If we look into products that we sell in Russia for the Russian audience, most of them are made in Russia.

RT: In your opinion, what do Russian companies need to catch up with the standards of Western film production companies?

MZ: I would say, catching up isn’t exactly the right word. In Russia, there’s an amazing history of story-telling. And for Disney in Russia, to the contrary, we would like to get inspiration from the Russian stories and make movies based on the Russian heritage and culture; while using some of the heritage that we have in the Walt Disney company in telling stories and how characters develop. And we always have a happy ending in all Disney movies.

RT: That’s really interesting. Does Disney actually follow a stable Hollywood tradition here in Russia, or does the Russian audience need to be fed the very specific content it’s used to?

MZ: We strongly believe that the Russian audience has a very distinct taste. And creation of our company and creating movies in Russia is exactly why we were started. So we want to do content that would be exciting for the Russian audience. Definitely, a lot of our big blockbusters work in Russia, and the Russian audience loves Pirates, they love Alice in Wonderland. But at the same time, there are a lot of stories that can be told specifically for the Russian audience.

We believe that with our fairy tales, which we started with the Book of Masters, we tapped into something that was not done in Russia for a long time; it’s the quality family entertainment and family stories which, we see, can travel around the world. Because with the Book of Masters we received nine prizes in various film festivals around the world. The movie was then shown in London, in Chicago and in Australia. By the end of the year, it was distributed in Italy; now it will be distributed in India and Latin America. What we see is that traditional Russian stories can also travel beyond just the Russian audience, although the Book of Masters was created for the Russian audience specifically.

RT: You said that DVD is one of the sources of your income. Piracy is a huge problem in Russia. What are the annual losses for your unit of Disney here in Russia and how do you fight it, how do you protect your intellectual property?

MZ: Piracy is definitely a big issue for Disney, not only in Russia but in a lot of countries. What we have recently seen is that people try to buy quality content, and they’re used to buying DVDs in retail. We also developed a lot of programs for various price points, and we work with a lot of retail partners to make sure that we get quality legal product to the audiences at very different price points. And what we see, our DVD sales and blu-ray are growing really, really fast. Even though we know that the market is changing and the blu-ray and digital distribution is still around the corner, but still, a lot of families buy DVDs. They want to watch movies together, they buy it for their kids.

RT: So, do you say the losses in piracy aren’t considerable?

MZ: We really don’t calculate that. We do calculate how much our revenues are growing, and what we see, especially recently, is that the pirated market might be decreasing because, again, we sell more and more DVDs, not only very expensive ones but for mass audiences, and we believe that the piracy market is decreasing.

RT: Many foreign companies have actually said that it’s very difficult to do business in Russia, and they are citing corruption and bureaucracy as the main stumbling points. Would you say that your unit of the Disney Global Corporation is facing, maybe, the same problems here?

MZ: Now, the Disney Company was established in 2006 in Russia, and imagine, at that time there was nobody working here. And we managed to build a very strong business and we are leaders in a lot of segments that are important for us. We now have a team of more than two hundred people working in this office. So, I believe if you really have a strategy well thought of, if you have a strong team of people, you can be very successful in this market.

RT: You know, Japanese animation has become very popular with children, especially in the cartoon market. Do you think there’s a chance that the Japanese animee will really squeeze out the traditional cartoon, which has actually been a bargaining chip for Disney for years and years now?

MZ: It’s interesting that you asked this question. When TV appeared, everybody said: “Oh, the theatre would die or the cinema would die.” I think there are very different types of entertainment that people would like and definitely Japanese animation is a very important part of that. Kids love Disney movies, kids love old Soviet movies and animated movies. So, I don’t think it will influence this strongly. Yes, it’s one of the very interesting and important types of animation which will, I think, live together with other types of animation.

RT: What projects, do you think, will be successful in 2011?

MZ: We are really excited about 2011. For us, it’s already started because our financial year ends at the end of September. For us, the new very interesting releases are obviously Tangled and Tron, a very exciting movie. And next year we are really looking forward to releasing Pirates of the Caribbean.

RT: Thank you very much for this interview!