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C21 DIGITAL SCREENINGS

Key Buyers Event 2021

Programming Profile

Russian drama keeps the spotlight

18-05-2021

Russian drama has been growing in importance for some time but last year demand reached new heights. Roskino chief Evgenia Markova outlines the factors behind this trend, while other execs from the Russian TV industry showcase their new products via C21’s Digital Screenings this week.

 

As the boom in international demand for Russian programming continues, plenty of industry focus will be on the third Key Buyers Event next month, organised by Roskino, the state agency promoting Russian content abroad. The event is supported by the Ministry of Culture, as well as by the Department of Entrepreneurship and Innovative Development of the City of Moscow and the Agency for Creative Industries.

 

Entitled Key Buyers Event: Digital, the virtual market takes place between June 8 and 10, presenting Russia’s latest films, TV series and animation projects, and also shining a spotlight on emerging actors, directors and writers. Game of Thrones star Yuri Kolokolnikov, for instance, will be the event’s ambassador, also launching there his latest Russian series, Hook (presented by Megogo Studios).

 

Kotok
Evgenia Markova

Roskino CEO Evgenia Markova says the event has changed since it began in 2019. “The Key Buyers Event was initially designed to connect Russian players with global audiences and to give buyers the full picture of the Russian industry. Over the past three years, both the global and Russian markets have transformed significantly. Now our mission is to make the whole market transparent for all global players, to highlight the latest trends, developments and new opportunities for all international partners.”

 

This year, Key Buyers Event will present more than 400 projects, with 40 premieres confirmed so far and over 70 shows open for coproduction. In addition, Moscow is open for filming, with all necessary Covid-19 safety measures in place, and Markova wants to make sure that global producers are aware of all the opportunities to shoot there, about the locations and possible Russian partners.

 

Like their counterparts around the world, Russian producers were impacted by the pandemic, but Markova says: “We adapted quickly and creatively to the challenges. Russia was the first national player that succeeded in bringing the content market online within six weeks last year. We understood the demands of the industry and created a unique digital platform. Russia was one of the few countries that didn’t stop production for too long. Our restrictions for filming only lasted from March 2020 through to June 2020. Production resumed last summer with strict safety measures in place.”

 

Russia’s response to the pandemic has certainly kept its programming pipeline flowing and this has, in part, fuelled the recent boom in demand for content from the country. “Global sales of Russian content have grown by 20% per year,” says Markova. “Russia is among the top 10 content exporters in the world, in terms of theatrical release, in line with France, Germany, Spain, the UK, as well as new big players like South Korea and China.”

 

Content is king, goes the industry mantra, and the shows that have driven this recent spike in demand include Silver Spoon from Sreda, one of the first Russian titles sold to Netflix; Better Than Us from Yellow, Black and White, START and Sputnik Vostok Production, the first Russian drama purchased by Netflix as an original; and 257 Reasons to Live from Yellow, Black and White and START, an award-winning show distributed by Germany’s Beta Film.

 

Other successes include START’s Russian Affairs, 1-2-3 Production’s An Ordinary Woman, Dead Mountain – The Dyatlov Pass Incident, as well as their To The Lake, which appeared on Netflix’s top 10 in 59 countries worldwide and as one of the top 10 foreign Netflix Originals of 2020 in the US. And it’s not just drama; Russian animation is also doing well too. Magic Control Secret Agency, from Wizart, was also acquired by Netflix as an original and became one of the best-watched animation features among international audiences.

 

But Markova is quick to point out that this growth hasn’t happened overnight. “The Russian industry has been developing as an exporter of content for the last 10 years, supported by the state institutions and boosted by the emergence of big media players, driven by advertising market growth, which invest in high-quality productions,” she says.

 

The arrival of streaming platforms in Russia, however, has certainly had an impact on the volume and quality of the content being produced there. “Online streamers like Netflix and Amazon now focus not only on the American market but also search for the best regional content and are looking closely at Russia,” says Markova.

 

And it’s not just the international streamers. “We now have more than 20 video services in Russia, with between seven and 10 major platforms: Start, Premier, More.tv, Okko, Kinopoisk HD, ivi, Megogo and Kion,” lists the Roskino exec. “Many online platforms have launched or have been acquired by big clusters – tech companies, banks, mobile operators, media groups – so they gather great resources, both creative and financial, to create outstanding drama and create acute competition, not only with each other but also with traditional TV players.”

 

This competition has driven up quality as the platforms chase viewers. It has also changed the tone of the content, being freed from the constraints of linear free-to-air broadcasting. “Russian creators are now producing exciting, bold and daring content that appeals to audiences around the world. VoD platforms are more open and risky than traditional TV players, so they produce more provocative, high-end, expensive originals and also give space for young voices,” says Markova.

 

Examples of this new edginess include streamer More.tv drama Happy End, in which a couple turn their relationship into a sex attraction over webcams for the whole world to see; or Chicks, also from More.tv, about four women who try to quit prostitution and make their own way in life.

 

As well as streaming driving up production volume and quality in Russia, the proliferation of SVoD platforms around the world, all seeking fresh content, is also providing a boost to demand for Russian programming.

 

“Due to global VoD platforms, Russian film and series have become more available for global audiences,” says Markova. “Direct access to consumers is a great approach, as it allows the best national stories to quickly find their viewers worldwide. But we work not only with global giants like Netflix and Amazon but also with major regional streamers. Last year we launched on key VoDs in Mexico, Spain, Brazil, and Australia, and we see that Russian content is appealing and relevant in each of these regions.”

 

As for where demand is highest for Russian content, Markova explains: “For the last couple of years, Russian content is in particular demand and proving very popular in Europe, China, South Korea and Latin America. In China, several Russian films – Three Seconds, The Blackout, Stalingrad, Snow Queen – set box-office records and animated series such as The Fixies, Kikoriki, BabyRiki and Little Tiaras, are very popular.”

 

Latin American audiences, she adds, seem to prefer Russian period dramas like Ekaterina, for example, and horror titles.

 

With all this in mind, Roskino has selected a number of new series to showcase via C21’s Digital Screenings this week.

 

The first show on the playlist is new crime drama Insomnia, which 1-2-3 Production is making for Russia’s TV-3 channel. Starring Gosha Kutsenko and Irina Starshenbaum, the series follows a psychiatrist and hypnotist who unravels the mystery of his wife’s death and finds out the truth about reincarnation along the way.

 

“We turned to the internationally loved waters of crime drama with mystic/thriller elements and spiced it up with seductive element of hypnosis, with two exceptional leading actors in the mix and let them create unique chemistry,” says Evgeniy Nikishov, head of 1-2-3 Production and general producer at TV-3.

 

“The target audience includes the wide range of people who love mystery, who desire to look beyond the fringe of reality and discover how much there is yet to explore. This is the core audience of TV-3 Russian broadcaster,” adds Valeriy Fedorovich, head of 1-2-3 Production and CEO at TV-3.

 

Mediator, meanwhile, is a new drama from streamer START. The series follows a professional negotiator, who is called to step into tough, dangerous situations when people can’t agree, and debuted in Russia in April.

 

“Mediator reveals how our society exposes its selfishness and aggression,” says Daria Bondarenko, EVP for sales, acquisitions and coproductions at Start. “The issues and topics covered are universal; it’s a story that could happen anywhere and will resonate with many cultures. Ultimately, this series is an exploration of a complicated character’s soul and motivations.”

 

From NTV Broadcasting comes Fatherland, a suspense drama based on the bestselling novel by contemporary Russian author Aleksandr Terekhov. It follows an idealistic journalist who embarks on a downward spiral into the very person he has spent half of his life fighting against. NTV is producing two versions of the show: an edgy 18-plus version for VoD distribution and a softer show for linear broadcaster NTV.

 

“The series has a darkened Scandinavian-style ambience, in demand all over the world. The plot, revolving around corruption and crime cover-ups, provides enough drama and suspense to keep the viewers at the edge of their seats until the last minute. The protagonist has an unusual and dramatic arc,” says Timur Weinstein, general producer at NTV.

 

The second season of period cop drama Detective Anna is also on the Roskino playlist. The show follows a 19-year-old woman who discovers she has supernatural powers and uses them to solve crimes. The first season has already travelled around the world and is available in more than 20 countries on TV channels and OTT platforms such as Amazon Prime.

 

The new season has “a strong story with lots of twists and mystery, all wrapped up in beautiful historical costumes, which all worked really well to win a big multinational fan base. Season two successfully premiered in Russia this March, so now we’re planning to go global,” says Vlad Ryashin, founder and general producer at the company behind the show, Star Media.

 

Happy End, one of the edgy dramas mentioned above, is available in Russia via More.tv. Vyacheslav Murugov, senior executive officer, entertainment broadcast at NMG, parent of the show’s distributor Art Pictures Distribution, says the series has “exceeded our expectations, bringing a lot of media attention and new subscribers” to the streaming platform.

 

“Russia is often depicted as alien, strange or hostile but Happy End allows people to see that Russia actually deals with the same problems that most people face everywhere in the world in 2021. ‘Russians love their children too,’ as Sting sang, but here that means: Russians enter the adult industry and experience catastrophic private consequences too.”

 

The sixth show on the playlist is dark comedy Married Life Scenes, created by the largest online media platform KION! together with Sreda production company. The show is about a couple who try to reignite their flagging love life by accidental murders, which somehow makes them fall in love again and leads them to become serial killers.

 

Another show to look at is Ikotka presented by GPM ETV.

 

“With our drama series we are travelling into the depth of Russia where the beliefs of our ancestors are still strong. The title refers to the one of the most mysterious phenomena of Russian mythology and folk legends. Ikotka is an evil spirit. It can possess a person, give him physical powers and clairvoyance, but in the end is still a parasite that eats any human being from the inside. It is a unique story for any market, for any country which resonates with our inner need to believe in something we cannot understand,” says Anton Shchukin, founder and producer at Good Story Media.

 

With such a broad selection of titles to screen via C21’s Digital Screenings portal, it doesn’t look like the boom in Russian drama is slowing down any time soon.