It seems that Yandex (Яндекс), the Internet company that is Russia’s homegrown alternative to Google, has surpassed Channel 1 (Первый канал), Russia’s premiere state-owned television channel, in something like a cross-platform ratings game. The Russian newspaper Vedemosti reports today that, for the month of April, 19.1 million users visited Yandex daily, while only 18.1 million viewers watched Channel 1 daily, according to market research by TNS. This is apparently the first time an Internet portal has overtaken a TV channel in this way in Russia.
There are still more Russians in general watching TV than using the Internet – about 30.5 million Russians used the Internet on a daily basis in April, while about 31.5 million Russians watched TV on a daily basis (although that’s not such a big difference, actually). Also, the people who watched Channel 1 did so for a longer time: about an hour a day, while the people visiting Yandex did so for about 10 minutes a day.
Nevertheless, this can be taken as an indicator that Internet use in Russia is widespread and rising. In the recent wave of openly expressed opposition in Russia, online social media have certainly played a significant role. Putin was asked about this in one live TV interview on the very same Channel 1. The following question was put to the Prime-Minister-cum-President (interestingly, the question came to the interviewer via the TV channel’s website, which he was reading on the air from his laptop): “The greatest number of your critics are on the Internet; what is your view of the Internet and Internet users?”
Watching the video, you don’t even have to understand Russian to perceive what Putin thinks about the Internet – his body language communicates pretty loudly in his initial response. He goes on to make campaign-safe statements about keeping the Internet open; but the interviewer follows up with a casual question, which unfolds like this:
Interviewer: “Do you often read the Internet?”
Putin (looking away from the interviewer): “No.”
Interviewer (smiling): “Deliberately?”
Putin: “No, I simply have no time…I don’t even watch television.”
Among opposition activists, jokes about Putin’s animosity toward the Internet are pretty common. A recent animated music video by “Kapitan Kangeru” (Ilya Dombrovskii and Maksim Leonov) on You Tube captures this hilariously; titled “Our National Leader, or Song about Harm on the Internet”, it pokes fun at Putin’s overplayed bravado and his seeming agelessness; although elsewhere this is attributed to botox, in this video it is attributed to Putin’s avoidance of the Internet. One frame depicts the Kremlin as an “Internet-free zone”, while another shows Putin with his hand quavering on the Internet’s red ‘on-off’ button; everywhere, Putin is seen wagging his finger in warning to those who are glued to their computer screens.
Of course, Yandex hopes the ratings news will attract more advertisers to its platform, but some Russian observers, loyal to the TV viewer market, remain dismissive of the advertising potential of the Internet. Interesting in this context to note that, during the Russian presidential campaign this year, the Putin campaign for the first time spent a considerable amount of money on Internet advertising – almost $2 million, according to Vedemosti.