PREMIER aims for the top of the Russian streaming charts
BY Alexandra Shutova
Gazprom Media’s premium streaming service PREMIER has a new CEO. Sofya Mitrofanova took over the helm in August with the ambition to continue to drive the growth of the streamer which has produced some of Russia’s most-popular and acclaimed series on the international scene during the past year.
In this exclusive interview with Alexandra Shutova, the PREMIER CEO talks about her plans to increase the popularity of the service on the extremely competitive Russian market through more original content and new partnerships while also actively cooperating with international partners to bring PREMIER’s biggest hits to a global audience.
Sofya Mitrofanova
Sofya, you were recently appointed CEO of Gazprom Media’s video service PREMIER. What will be your main responsibilities?
As CEO, I am responsible for the strategic development and operational management of the PREMIER video service. My area of responsibility includes expanding the audience of the video platform and attracting new subscribers. I also oversee the further modernization of the service’s IT infrastructure, which is aimed at improving the user experience. In addition, the content line of original projects is formed under my leadership.

What are your ambitions for PREMIER? What are your expectations for growth in the next few years?
Any participant in the competition wants to get a prize - to enter the Top of the best video services. PREMIER also has such bold ambitions. In the near future, we expect to establish our position in the market and expand the content offering of the service not only by increasing the number of original projects, but also by licensing the library.

What are the most successful PREMIER projects to date?
Over the 3 years of its existence, PREMIER has launched dozens of successful projects, many of which we have been extended for a second season: The Dyatlov Pass, Survival Game, Call Center, To the Lake, Peace! Friendship! Chewing Gum!, Territory, House Arrest, Call DiCaprio!, Actively Searching, Russian Holidays. According to Telecom Daily’s first half of 2021 data, our project Peace! Friendship! Chewing Gum! 2 became the viewing leader among original series on the Russian market.

The online video market is pretty competitive in Russia. What will be your strategy to keep up the interest of the users? What kind of content will you focus on?
The video services market in Russia has indeed become very dynamic. The main thing that keeps you competitive is exclusive content. We are already increasing production and plan to increase the number of exclusive and co-exclusive projects in the future.

As for topics and genres, we cannot say that one genre has been more successful than another, and now we will only shoot comedy or dramatic projects. Our audience is very diverse, it has different needs and interests. For example, this fall our viewers will see absolutely different exclusive projects: the series Contact about the conflict between fathers and children; detective drama Insomnia with Gosha Kutsenko as a hypnotherapist, the adult animation series created with 2x2 Universe of Hacking, the musical dramedy Sold-Out and others.

Has competition led to an increase in series production costs?
Competition leads to the fact that all video services in general begin to increase the cost of their own content. Our costs rise as the total production of projects increases. Even if we compare 2018, when video services began original production, and 2020, when the leading video services had already released 10 of their own serial projects, on average (16 original projects came out on PREMIER), there was tremendous growth in just two years. This growth has led to a struggle for talents - film studios, actors. All this entails an increase in the production costs of projects.


You are Gazprom Media’s premium streaming service. What are the main advantages of being a part of the leading media group and what type of synergies do you have with other media companies within the holding?
A holding company can be compared to a large family, in which the interests of all members are taken into account. But a big family always means support, mutual assistance and the opportunity to do something large-scale, which cannot be created alone. PREMIER can receive the successful content of TV channels TNT, Friday!, TV3, TNT4 on exclusive terms. Their series and shows are very popular with both TV viewers and Internet audiences. And we are proud to offer our subscribers the best TV content.

While other stand-alone video services that exist apart from media holdings are only trying to negotiate terms of cooperation with TV channels, PREMIER, being an important asset of the largest media holding Gazprom Media, has its own preferences and partnerships with other assets of the holding.

The Russian online video services market is quite vibrant. What are some of its peculiarities compared to other markets? Do you expect the international streaming services to pose a threat to the local players?
The Russian market is unique in the way that it has managed to keep domestic players in leading positions. In Europe, the leaders are American companies like Amazon and Netflix. These giants simply did not allow local video services to develop. In Russia, everything is different: our market leaders are Russian video services.

At the same time, there is a global player in Russia - Netflix, which successfully cooperates with Russian film studios and video services, Disney+ is expected to appear. For us, this is an additional incentive to strengthen our positions, grow more actively and build new cooperation schemes.

Last year the Russian OTT market grew with the record 66% mainly due to the pandemic. What are your expectations for this and next year? Will the growth slow down?
The growth during the pandemic was unusual: Russians were forced to stay at home. Therefore, they began to spend a lot more time watching content. Now that life has returned to its usual routine, it is unlikely that people will continue to watch TV shows for days on end - this is normal and expected. In addition, during the pandemic, all online cinemas provided content to the audience for free or at large discounts. Not all users who came to the services then began to pay for content when the promotion ended. But the pattern of viewing legal content has definitely persisted. Therefore, we are working on converting free viewing to a subscription model. We see that users are willing to pay for high-quality legal content, exclusive premieres, and quality user experience.


Recently, you announced partnerships with Megogo and Viasat. Are you planning to further diversify your offer with similar deals? What are the advantages of such cooperation?
Of course, we plan to further develop the Partnerships. No matter how much our viewers love high-quality Russian TV shows, they want to watch major foreign projects as well, both new and favorite classics. We’ll talk about upcoming partnerships soon.

Do you have plans for international expansion?
In addition to the fact that the PREMIER video service is available throughout the world, we have content partnerships with foreign players, for example, Netflix, which appreciated our projects. In 2020, Netflix bought the rights to broadcast our project To the Lake (Epidemic) abroad. This format of cooperation is much more profitable for us, so in the future we plan to create even more projects that may be of interest not only to Russians, but also to viewers from other countries.

The Ministry of Culture has recently updated the expert councils on fiction, documentary and animated films and included reps from the largest video services, including PREMIER. What will be your role in the councils and what kind of projects you would vote for?
The appearance of representatives of large companies on the expert council is an important step for the film industry. In fact, we not only provide our expertise in order to appreciate potentially successful projects, but also enable talented directors and screenwriters to present the project immediately to a potential investor. By giving us the opportunity to take part in the council, the Ministry of Culture met the needs of both talented specialists, who can now directly pitch their ideas to large video services, and viewers - because it turned to market experts for help in choosing projects that are most interesting to modern Russians.

For example, last year the pitching of TV series took place for the first time at the Kinotavr business program. One of the presented projects was Goremyki. PREMIER noticed it there, the creators of the project were immediately offered to sign a contract for joint production. And so, on September 7, the shooting of this comedy project started.
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