Russia

Interview with Anya Sverdlov

 

“The e-content industry in Russia is currently in its early stages of development”

How would you define e-content in Russia?

E-content is, or should be, the core of any single- or multi-media application, whether commercial or not. Practically: almost any website, CD, video, or mobile application is built to carry the content to the user or to help the user create his/her own content. E-content in Russia is mostly viewed as a way to preserve and carry forward cultural or historical heritage, to disseminate lifestyle, scientific, educational and business information in some digitalized format, or to provide some interactive service to users. Importantly, user-created content is also included in the e-content definition

“Russia has parallel development of e-content, being concurrently driven by the private and public sectors”


What’s the status of e-content in Russia?

The e-content industry in Russia is currently in its early stages of development. While small-scale efforts have been made by the public sector over the past ten years to develop e-content in the e-learning, e-culture, and e-government areas, the private sector has concentrated its efforts over the past five years on the more commercially-viable e-business and e-entertainment areas (mostly via internet and mobile/wireless media).

And while the public sector institutions have access to vast amounts of non-digital content and to tremendous knowledge bases in all areas of interest (but lower technological, design, and financial resources), it is the private sector that possesses truly world-class technologies and resources to properly transform that content into products (but, alas, less access to the underlying content or desire to digitalize it).

Since the two streams of effort have gone parallel to each other, rather than combining forces, Russia has thus far failed to produce a significant number of world-class e-content multimedia products (notable exceptions are Russian video games and a very small number of sponsored cultural CD-ROMs).

At the same time, it is difficult to overlook the potential for Russia’s e-content development: a rich and vibrant content base (historical, scientific, educational, cultural, etc.), design and technology resources recognized for their skills internationally, a developed ICT infrastructure in major cities, a highly educated multicultural technology-adept population. Should these factors combine to work together, Russia is bound to leapfrog several stages of e-content development and become one of the world’s top e-content producers.

Which area of e-content (e-health, e-biz, e-culture, e-government, e-entertainment, e-learning, e-science, and e-inclusion) is best developed in Russia?

Of the eight WSA categories of content, the best developed are the e-business and e-entertainment areas, mostly because these are the two areas with most commercial value for the private sector. The other area of e-content that both falls in-between the established categories and, at the same time, encompasses several of them is “e-Lifestyle”, which likewise has a high commercial value and, as such, is better developed in Russia. Better development of the other areas of e-content is more dependent on the existence of private-public partnerships in those realms and, as such, these are less evolved in Russia at the moment.

Which sector (business, private sector, government or civil society) in Russia is advanced in developing e-content?

Russia has parallel development of e-content, being concurrently driven by the private and public sectors. While the private sector is mostly concerned with the commercial value of e-content and, as such, areas of most development there are e-business, e-entertainment, and e-Lifestyle, the government aims at initiatives to preserve the cultural and historical heritage, as well as to utilize the latest technologies to assist in its scientific and educational programs.

How would you describe the gradual progress of development of e-content in Russia?

Russia’s extremely rich cultural, historical, educational, and scientific heritage naturally lends itself to vast possibilities in e-content creation. However, the rise of the importance of new media coincided with great political, economic, and social upheaval in the country.

While new technologies were developed and imported often faster than expected, e-content took a back seat to technological development. Public sector e-content efforts began in the mid-1990’s, with the digitalization of a few educational programs, and continued for the next decade with several small-scale initiatives to digitalize the country’s cultural heritage. At the same time, the development of a vibrant commercial multimedia industry, beginning in the late 1990’s, naturally led to a rapid development of the more commercial areas of e-content.

Industry participants are hopeful that the next five years will bring both larger-scale public sector e-content initiatives and, more importantly, the creation of partnerships between public and private sector players in order to develop, promote, and evolve Russia’s e-content potential and industry.

What major initiatives have influenced the development of e-content in Russia?

While a number of initiatives, both public sector and NGO, have been announced and launched in Russia, they have thus far had little major impact on large-scale development of e-content or the birth of a real e-content industry.

What are the major bottlenecks in the path of e-content development in Russia?

The major bottleneck to faster and more effective e-content development in Russia is the current lack of significant public-private partnerships and organizations that specifically aim at e-content development. Many public sector institutions possess immense amounts of content and knowledge, while private sector companies and individuals possess the proper technologies, skills and resources to transform, package and market that content. Should those two sectors unite under a common cause, breakthroughs in e-content development in Russia are bound to take place. Other, though less significant, bottlenecks include a lack of funding / commercial value for e-content development and less developed ICT infrastructure in certain areas of the country.

In most countries, especially developing, e-content development is significantly dependent on ICT infrastructure and ICT facilities. But, in some, ICT has become pervasive and e-content development is primarily subjected to the initiatives of an individual/organization/government, etc. What is the situation in Russia?

In terms of ICT infrastructure development, Russia presents a two-fold case: some areas of the country are developed in terms of ICT infrastructure and facilities (Moscow, for instance, accounting for a population of 12 million, has a 100+% mobile penetration and at least a 30-40% internet penetration), while other, mostly rural, areas lag significantly behind (rural mobile penetration, for instance, is at 68%, while internet penetration is under 10%).

Much of the scientific, educational, technological, and e-content development has been taking place in the urban areas of the country (the 5-6 largest cities) and it is there that the pace and direction of e-content development currently depends on business and government initiatives. For other areas of the country, e-content development will highly depend on the pace and direction of ICT infrastructure building.

How would you describe the ICT scenario in Russia in terms of infrastructure, penetration, and policies?
As already mentioned above, two ICT scenarios exist in Russia: the more developed urban areas and the less developed rural areas. Among the cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg have the highest ICT penetration (Moscow and St. Petersburg both have mobile penetration of 100+% and an internet penetration more than twice the Russian average), with other large cities trailing a bit behind. Development of ICT infrastructure in rural areas depends on their distance from larger cities and their economic conditions.

The government is making every effort, both on investment and policy levels, to further develop ICT infrastructure country-wide; several private sector initiatives also exist to increase ICT penetration in less developed / economically disadvantaged areas. ICT acceptance is extremely high in Russia, with its highly educated population and a long tradition of scientific/technological research.

What’s the future of e-content in Russia?

Several scenarios exist for the future of e-content in Russia, with the outcome depending on public and private initiatives and roles in development of e-content and the e-content industry, per se.
The potential and foundations exist for development of a truly world-class e-content industry in Russia:

(1) an abundant non-electronic content base, building on rich and diverse historical, scientific, educational, and cultural heritage, supported by a vast number of eminent experts, academicians, historians, and scientists dedicated to the cause of preserving and developing that heritage, as well as an established structure of world-class research institutes and universities;
(2) world-renowned skills in design and technology, with Russia quickly becoming one of the technology outsourcing locations of choice for programming, mobile, artificial intelligence, and R&D activities and Russian designers being in high demand in the East and West alike;
(3) A well-developed ICT infrastructure in major cities and one of the fastest growing economies, providing for the ability to both generate and consume quality e-content on the local level;
(4) A highly-educated (99.6% literacy rate, 75+% of population having graduated High School or above) multicultural and multi-lingual population, able to produce, consume and appreciate quality e-content.
With these basics in place, factors that will have the most profound influence on the development of e-content in Russia will be the potential for cooperation between the public and private sectors and the availability of funding for e-content development. Should efforts to establish effective cooperation between stakeholders of e-content development fail to come to fruition and e-content remain for separate / parallel development by the public and private sectors, the benefits of content availability and technological advances / business skills will not combine, leaving the industry to muddle along at relatively slow organic growth rates.

However, should such efforts succeed and the private sector be able to serve as the engine for e-content development and growth, Russia is capable of becoming one of the leading e-content producers and transformers in the world within the next 2-5 years, leapfrogging a number of development stages for the industry.

Which is the most preferred medium for e-content production in Russia?

Since technology / media is a means for delivering e-content, the medium most preferred for e-content development depends on the kind of content it is meant to carry and the audience it is meant to reach. For instance, educational e-content is better suited for more interactive media (such as the internet / interactive CDs/DVDs, interactive television). E-content targeted at less educated audiences may be better carried via television, while that which is meant to reach remote areas may be better served by radio.
In general, though, the trend is toward media convergence and the best examples of e-content will utilize an appropriate combination of media for a more effective content delivery. In Russia, the most effective interactive media are the internet, mobile, and interactive TV and, as such, a combination of these three would likely produce the best results and be the three preferred media for e-content development.

How do you recognise the best e-content practices in Russia?

Selection of national entries for Russia was made by a panel of experts. Due to a large number of various web design, advertising, and art contests that are held in Russia every year, holding yet another competition would not bring forward the best multimedia projects: many of the best producers are skeptical about entering any contest due to the sometimes biased judging prevalent at some of the contests and to the uncertain benefits of participation or winning. As such, a panel of experts was gathered from Russia’s leading web design, multimedia, and internet companies and content providers, with each panel member being asked to nominate top products in the eight WSA categories.

Aside from the WSA selection criteria, the jury also aimed to choose the most widely-known projects for each nomination, as the impact of e-content increases with its increased popularity or circulation. As a result, the six products nominated emerged as the clear winners.

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