(Moscow-Live.ru, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
In August 2019, the Russian non-governmental sociological research organization Levada Center released its most recent in-depth study of Russia’s media landscape. “The Russian Media Landscape 2019” report shows that the state television, which for dozens of years has served as by far the most influential media in Russia, is slowly losing its influence on the country’s population.
Although state television remains the most important source of information for most Russians, the amount of people relying primarily on TV for news has decreased by 22 per cent over the last decade.
“The least frequent users of the TV are the youngest people: 42 per cent (Russians bellow the age of 25). The oldest group (65 and older), is, on the other hand, still largely dependent on the TV: 93 per cent. The younger people in Russia favor social media channels over TV as their primary source of information,” the report says.
Similarly, Russians under the age of 35 get more information from the internet rather than from the TV. The most popular online news services in Russia are the following: Yandex Novosti (used by almost 40 per cent of Russians), Mail.ru (15 per cent) and Lenta.ru (10 per cent).
“Internet and social networks are the second most important sources of news in Russia, only behind the TV. Over the last 10 years, their audience has tripled from 9 per cent to a roughly one third of the country’s population. Russians under the age of 35 are more likely to get news on the internet than on the TV,” the report says.
Around 56 per cent of Russians use social media on a daily basis, up from 22 per cent in 2011. The most popular social media platforms are: Vkontakte (42 per cent), Odnoklasniki (33 per cent), YouTube (30 per cent), and Instagram (23 per cent).
Similarly affected by the technological changes has been the Russian newspaper business. In the 1990s, the leading newspapers had a readership comparable to the most popular TV channels, nearly 100 per cent. Today, these numbers are down many folds. Currently, the most popular newspapers in Russia are the following: Arguments and facts (10 per cent), Komsomolskaya Pravda (8 per cent), and Rossiyskaya gazeta (5 per cent).
The winners take it all
One of the clear profiteers of the recent changes in Russia’s media landscape has been the internet company Yandex. Specializing in internet-related products and services, such as search and information services, the company saw its revenues skyrocketing over the last decade.
According to the business data platform Statista, Yandex posted annual revenue totaling RUB4.25bn in 2007. In 2018, that number increased 30 fold to RUB127.7bn. Today, Yandex is Russia’s most successful technological company.
Similar to other search engines, such as Google, Yandex primarily makes money by charging advertisers for ad placement for various keyword searches. The most basic formula to calculate Yandex’s revenue is to multiply the total number of paid clicks by the average cost per click that the advertisers are willing to pay.
Since the amount of clicks has been growing rapidly in recent years, a reflection of a growing number of internet users in Russia and other Russian-speaking countries, Yandex has been able to generate more and more revenue every year.
According to the study by Levada Center, around 72 per cent of Russians use internet “every day”, “practically every day”, or “couple of times a week”. In 2001, only 2-3 per cent of Russians ticked any of those three boxes.
Another major winner of the power shift in the Russian media world is Mail.Ru. Founded in 1998 primarily as an e-mail service, the company went on to become one of the leading internet companies in Russia. Besides the email business, Mail.Ru controls and operates the 3 largest and most popular Russian social networking sites, VKontakte, Odnoklassniki, and Moi Mir.
According to Comscore.com, Mail.Ru’s social media empire had an outreach of 85 per cent of the total online Russian population in 2013, a number that has very likely increased since then.
According to Statista, Mail.Ru Group posted a revenue of RUB9,8bn in 2010. In 2017, the revenue of the company exceeded RUB57bn, a more than 500 per cent growth.
As the Russian “TV generation” is getting older, it is highly likely that the number of internet users, consuming media primarily online, will only continue to grow. This could gradually lead to a major power shift in the Russian media landscape from the traditionally strong state television to Russia’s dominant internet companies.
Filip Brokeš is an analyst and a journalist specializing in international relations.