Internet Politics Tech 22 November 2021

Online streaming platforms face regulation, censorship

Online movie streaming in Russia has become so popular it’s beginning to attract government attention — in the form of fines, restrictions, even bans. There were several examples of this last week. Online streaming looks like it will end up being as heavily censored as Russian television.

  • Media watchdog Roskomnadzor is looking at ways to ban online services from showing films and series that promote “non-traditional sexual relationships and sexual deviancy”, Vedomosti newspaper reported Tuesday. Shows of this nature would be grounds to block a streaming service. In addition, Roskomnadzor is considering extending a ban on the promotion of ‘non-traditional sexual relations’ to minors — infringements could be punished by a fine of up to 1 million rubles ($13,630) or a 90-day suspension. Roskomnadzor fined streaming services Megogo, Okko, ivi and Kinopoisk on Tuesday for failing to show advertising about the dangers of tobacco.
  • The head of Roskomnadzor apparently referred to a recent speech by President Vladimir Putin when discussing new measures against online streaming. However, presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he was not aware of any legislative proposals following Putin’s address.
  • In addition, Roskomnadzor began this week issuing warnings to online movie services over sexual content and bad language. This largely affected Megogo (one of Russia’s top 10 online movie theaters) after it screened Russian movie Nobody knows about sex. Roskomnadzor’s objection was that the film aired with a 16+ certificate, not an 18+ rating. However, when the film was released in 2006, the Minister of Culture approved a 16+ rating. Megogo subsequently changed the rating to 18+ and bleeped out offensive words. Similar demands — less swearing, less sex — were made in writing to other online streaming services like ivi, Start and Kion, employees told Vedomosti.
  • Like the rest of the Russian movie business, online services also face direct political pressure. Acceptable topics for new movies or series are heavily restricted — with elections, officials, corruption and LBGT+ topics especially problematic — the BBC Russian Service reported earlier this month. The BBC Russian Service found that actors who express support for jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny find it almost impossible to find work. A PR representative from one online streaming service said that, in the build-up to September’s parliamentary elections, actors were instructed to ‘behave normally’ — code for no criticism of the president, or the ruling United Russia party.
  • Online streaming services are a relatively recent arrival in Russia. The first online movie theaters were Ivi, Okko and TVzavr, which launched in 2009 and 2010. Their popularity exploded during the pandemic and, at the end of 2020, the major players had a combined revenue that was up 50 percent year-on-year to 38.9 billion rubles ($531 million), according to TelecomDaily.
  • Ivi was the biggest streaming service in the first half of 2021, with 24 percent of Russia’s online movie theatre revenue. Next was Kinopoisk HD (owned by internet giant Yandex) with 14.1 percent, then Okko (controlled by state-owned bank Sber in the fall of 2020) on 12.4 percent). U.S. service Netflix is gradually increasing its share and was in fourth place with 8.9 percent, while YouTube had 7.9 percent.

Why the world should care: For many years, online series and movies were seen as a far freer medium than television. But there are more and more signs this period is now at an end.