The popularity of subscription video-on-demand services in Russia has been growing rapidly and, as noted by Olga Filipuk, chief content officer of Yandex Mediaservices, the production of original shows has now reached a new level. While there is still a demand for Russian takes on tried-and-tested global genres such as crime thrillers and science-fiction, global success depends on having an original story: Russian in terms of style but relatable to viewers in other countries.
“Platforms explore new, complicated topics; they are not as limited as TV channels,” says Alexandra Modestova, CEO of Expocontent, mentioning the likes of “Happy End,” “Mediator,” “An Ordinary Woman” and “To the Lake,” which has become one of the top-watched shows on Netflix in the U.S. and worldwide.
“Russia has around 100 million potential content consumers and Netflix aims at this audience by launching its first originals here, like ‘Anna K,’ as well as acquiring series, films and animation. These titles attract not only Russian viewers but global ones too. So, two birds with one stone.”
As proven by the upcoming re-imagining of Tolstoy’s novel or new titles like “Fatherland,” “Swamp” and “To the Lake,” based on the works of Yana Vagner, literary adaptations are here to stay. According to Maria De Ritter, head of the international department at Sputnik Vostok Production, female protagonists are also getting their due, even though Russia is yet to find its star heroine, and so do regions other than Moscow.
“It resonates with the Russian audience while giving the foreign one a chance to discover the country the way we got to discover Louisiana in ‘True Detective’ and Albuquerque in ‘Breaking Bad’,” she adds, recalling “The Vampires of Midland” and its depiction of Smolensk.
Local VOD players take part in the current boom too, embracing alternative versions of TV content.
“What’s fascinating about our market is that it has an incredible number of local VOD platforms,” says Timur Weinstein of NTV. “I see a lot of potential in online viewing because they don’t cannibalize network TV, or at least not NTV.”
“We rarely drift toward generic solutions,” adds Filipuk. “Rather than constrain ourselves with strict genres or archetypal characters we would rather make stories consistent with the interests of our 9 million Yandex Plus subscribers. We are not afraid of complex topics, which allows us to be a part of this ‘New Russian Wave’.”
While the plan is to “keep the bar high and establish new partnerships,” observes Daria Bondarenko, EVP, sales, acquisitions and co-productions at START, some are wary of the new reality.
“There are many series and there will be more, but according to the trend we are witnessing they should entertain you like some kind of visual fast-food. I am not complaining, but I miss the good old days of cable HBO,” says Anton Shchukin, founder and producer at Good Story Media.
As the content becomes more diverse, one certainly needs to take risks, points out Maria Grechishnikova, CEO of Star Media Group. But a local touch still goes a long way.
“My British father-in-law has an affection for Russian films, which he sums up this way: ‘Give me a man with a gun in the snow and I will watch it’,” says De Ritter. “In my experience, international buyers are looking for high-quality productions with a local flavor.”