The face of piracy in Russia is changing.
As online piracy overtakes counterfeit DVDs — the market for illegal discs fell by an estimated 40% between 2008 and 2009 — the pirates have changed from various criminal organisations protected by corrupt officials and law-enforcement officers, to teams of highly skilled internet programmers and administrators.
Despite all the measures taken by the state, it is estimated the illegal share of the entire film market remains at around 70%-80%. According to the Russian Interior Ministry, it exceeds $2bn in value terms and has made the existence of a legitimate ancillary market impossible.
Illegal discs are easy to obtain and cheap, selling at $3.50-$7 (rub100-rub200). Legal discs retail at around $21-$25 (rub600-rub700) and can only be bought from large supermarkets, speciality shops and cinemas.
Online, everything can be found for free. Russians can, and do, watch a good-quality film online about a month or two after it has screened at the cinema. In addition to so-called torrent trackers, there are a growing number of websites which provide the opportunity to watch a film for free. They include the country’s most popular social networking site Vontakte.ru, which has more than 23 million registered users.
Most analysts agree even dramatic action such as an increase in the average wage combined with a reduction in theatrical ticket prices, as has been proposed, would not have any impact on piracy. Russians have simply got used to the situation: no-one is likely to pay for what can be obtained for free.
The only thing the film industry can do — in Russia as elsewhere — is protect and enhance the theatrical experience and through the construction of new cinemas outside the urban hubs introduce cinema-going as a viable social activity to the country’s growing middle-class.
However, despite widespread online piracy, the pay-TV sector is thriving with around 12 operators, led by NTV-Plus. Most offer a movie channel as part of the package, as well as a VoD service with films priced at around $3.50 (rub100).