Russian President Vladimir Putin said little that was newsworthy in a video interview released Thursday by state-owned news agency TASS. Instead, discussion focused on the format of the interview, which was an obvious copy of popular YouTube vloggers — an apparent attempt to help the Russian leader reach out to new audiences.
- Trailed as Putin’s first ever internet video interview, the first part — a 12-minute segment about Russia’s new government — was released Thursday, with a second segment following Friday. The other 18 parts (a total of 3.5 hours) will be released over the next 5 weeks. The style of filming and the approach of interviewer Andrei Vandenko was a clear attempt to mimic YouTube shows: the camera moved restlessly between different angles, explainers popped up on the screen as Putin spoke, and within 90 seconds Vandenko had whipped out his iPad to show Putin a meme. The interview was produced by a company called Zamaleev Production, which is better known for its work on TV reality shows.
- Opinion was divided on the success of the interview, with some viewers complaining that the musical interludes and the camerawork made it exhausting to watch. Nor did it do particularly well on YouTube — within a day, the first video segment had only been watched 40,000 times. In comparison, Russia’s most successful YouTubers gather millions of views within hours of uploading content.
- YouTube in Russia has become an increasingly important platform for social and political debate in recent years. At the same time, Russia’s television networks, which are tightly controlled by the Kremlin, have seen their viewing figures and advertising revenues fall. Research (Rus) last year by independent pollster Levada Center showed that the number of Russians who get most of their information from television fell from 94 percent to 72 percent over the last decade, while trust in television dropped from almost 80 percent to 55 percent. Regular television shows with Putin, like his annual call-in, have seen a steady decline in viewing figures.
- When drawing comparisons with TASS’ format, many have in mind YouTube star Yuri Dud, whose interviews and films are watched by millions. Dud’s recent film about HIV was seen (Rus) over 14 million times in a week, and led to a spike in requests for HIV tests. The film also revealed how officials are taking an interest in Dud’s influence over his young audience: deputies in the Russian parliament invited Dud to speak, and the film was even praised by Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov
Why the world should care
Kremlin officials are acutely aware that declining TV audiences, particularly among young people, pose a threat to their ability to control information flows. While censorship and repression are one way to counter this, so is experimenting with new formats.