The past few years have seen a host of Russian streaming services enter the market, and as in other countries around the globe, the pandemic was a boon to the industry, which grew by 66% in 2020 to reach a value of 27.8 billion rubles ($384 million), according to TMT Consulting.
No company has benefited as much as fast-growing VOD platform START, which experienced the highest growth in the industry, with a 172% increase in streaming revenue last year.
Founded in 2017 by the producers and owners of Yellow Black and White, the studio behind such hits as the Netflix sci-fi series “Better Than Us” and the comedy box office sensation “Son of a Rich,” START was among the first streaming players to produce original content in Russia.
Over the past three years, the company has produced more than 30 original projects, including the dramedy series “257 Reasons to Live,” which played in competition at Canneseries, and the eight-part drama series “Russian Affairs,” which has sold to Amazon Prime and the U.K. specialty streamer Walter Presents. A number of the company’s other titles are currently being sold as formats for local adaptation abroad.
“We are conscious that to attract and retain viewers in this day and age…it’s vital to create events and attractions,” said START CEO Julia Mindubaeva. “And so our main task is to offer users the widest possible range of emotions and genres.”
START will be presenting its four flagship series at the Key Buyers Event, which takes place online from June 8-10. The mystery and detective drama “The Vampires of Midland” centers on a family of bloodsuckers living an unremarkable and ordinary life, until a mysterious discovery puts them all at risk. “Container” (pictured), a 2021 MipDrama selection, is a bold, unflinching drama highlighting the challenges and choices of contemporary surrogacy. The psychological thriller “Mediator” turns on a professional negotiator who can convince anyone of anything, anytime and anywhere, but seems to have a hard time accepting himself. And “Passengers” is an episodic mystery drama, about regrets, atonement and absolution.
The slate reflects a concerted effort by the streaming service to ramp up production of original content, even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic—a strategy that has had a clear upside for its subscribers.
“Because we focus on local and in-house production, we did not suffer from a shortage of content to the same extent [as other streamers],” said Mindubaeva. “Even when we completely shut down filming in spring 2020, we worked hard to come up with new formats, to experiment. For example, we released ‘Games People Play,’ an extremely successful screenlife series from one of Russia’s most sought-after directors, Konstantin Bogomolov. Naturally, this was also a time for writing new screenplays.”
Mindubaeva acknowledged that the company can’t claim all the credit for its meteoric rise during the pandemic. “It goes without saying that lockdown has had a positive impact on our industry,” she said, “but at START, we also see our successes as being linked to our chosen strategy. While lockdown had a significant effect on volumes, it didn’t change the structure of viewing on the service, which was mainly driven by our original and exclusive projects.”
START currently releases one or two original projects per month, with Mindubaeva noting that “our goal is to move to weekly releases.” “From the beginning, we put our faith in originals. Time and events have only increased our belief in this approach,” she said. “We plan to strengthen our position and build a lineup of original content. There is almost no international content on START. Our focus is on high-quality Russian films, animation and TV series that are made by the best creators and artists working in our industry.”
To that end, the company also launched its own talent agency, Start Talent, a move that ensures the streamer will have a pipeline of emerging stars to contribute to its production slate.
“Growing an industry alongside content requires professionals and talent,” said Mindubaeva. “We’re proud to say that we’ve already attracted the most outstanding talents in the industry. But a key focus is finding new, emerging talents, and giving them the chance to grow and fulfill their potential.”