Russian VOD market gets more crowded as Mail.ru posts new video service

The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming! The Russian online video market is the largest in Europe, and Mail.ru, the email service that has morphed into one of the largest players on the block, is looking to play in a new sandbox.

The company, which comScore says aggregates the biggest web audience of any Russian Internet company, announced it will start charging for video content through a new service Afisha Mail.ru, throwing its cyber hat into the ring with Internet competitor Yandex.

Mail.ru’s catalog isn’t huge, just 3,000 titles currently for rent (and another 4,000 free titles that carry ads).

But the content is pretty solid, including hits like “Gravity,” the Russian comedy “Yolki 3,” as well as classic Soviet and foreign films. Prices will range from 80 cents for some of the catalog fare to $8.30 for newer releases. A company spokesman said Afisha plans to launch an SVOD service by the end of 2014.

Through an agreement with streaming service Play Lite, Afisha will have access to some content from major Hollywood players including Universal Pictures, Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox and Walt Disney. Mail.ru, according to a report in the Moscow Times, believes users in Russia – arguably one of the biggest pirate video economies in the world – are ready to pay for legal content, if the price and UI is right.

Both Afisha and Yandex will have a lot of work ahead.

Ivi.ru has had more than three years to ramp up its service, counts some 30% of the 66-million-strong Russian market, and offers both an SVOD and free movie service. Consulting firm iKS-Consulting said about one third of the Russian population uses the Internet to watch VoD services monthly.

In April, ivi.ru signed agreements with all the Hollywood majors, becoming the first video service in Eastern Europe to do so. It now has 65,000 titles to offer, with some licensed from 20th Century Fox, Walt Disney, Sony Pictures, Warner Brothers, Paramount Pictures and NBC Universal.

Oleg Tumanov, chairman of the board and managing director of ivi.ru, said the deals “are an important step for the development of the legitimate video market in Russia and fighting piracy in the digital content industry.” 

Some 30 out of 50 all-time box office champions eventually will to be made available to ivi.ru users, the company said.

ivi.ru reportedly owns about 30% of the Russian market, generating about $14.1 million in revenues, double what it saw a year ago.

It offers ad-sponsored, pay-per-view and subscription models, with newer movie renting for about $2.70.

iKS-Consulting said each of nine key players in the market see 100 million to 200 million video viewings monthly, and said it expects the Russian VoD market to grow to $88.7 million in 2014, and to exceed $290 million by 2018.

Stay tuned.

Jim O’Neill is Editor of Videomind and Principal Analyst at Brightcove. You can follow him on Twitter @JimONeillMedia and on LinkedIn