Welcome to Moscow, the Silicon Valley of Russia
By Alexander Vashchenko
Today, I’d like to talk a bit about the two most exciting things in my life right now: the new face of Moscow as a hub for startups and tech investment, and the changing face of entertainment media worldwide.
To begin with, it might be fair to say that the last time my home country of Russia was prominent in international pop culture was back in the 1980s, when the nation was portrayed as the communist regime that invaded America in the film Red Dawn, and of course, produced the evil boxer Ivan Drago from the motion picture Rocky IV.
Let’s just say things have changed a bit since then. Communism bowed out in the 1990s, leading to a technology boom similar to what we saw in the US.
Nowadays, Moscow is a hotbed for startup culture and investments—there’s a reason it keeps appearing on the annual lists of most expensive cities in the world. This increased cost of living is definitely related to the rise in investment in innovation, particularly in exciting new spaces like mobile.
Russia itself has become increasingly connected, with about half its entire population already online. But Moscow, in particular, distinguishes itself not only as a highly connected city, but also as one that has absolutely embraced new mobile devices, given that about 40% of all mobile browsing takes place in the city. This is proof that Moscow loves new technology, and is absolutely willing to use it to consume content.
This brings me back to my other great love—pop entertainment. In my younger days, I loved exploring worlds of fantasy and fiction through comic books and novels, and continue to be a voracious reader and watcher of movies and TV well into my adult years.
But while creativity in entertainment is in no short supply, the media through which it’s delivered are facing an identity crisis. For instance, with the advent of web, print simply doesn’t have the relevance it once had, and that translates to huge opportunities lost.
Apparently, American newspapers saw their ad revenue decrease from $45 billion in 2003 to just $19 billion (and decreasing) today. Traditional television is also facing a similar challenge: some estimates suggest that online video ad budgets will increase by nearly 50% this year compared to only a 6% increase in TV ads, with online video ad budgets projected to eclipse those of TV by 2016, if not sooner.
Simply put, more and more people are migrating away from old media— print, television, and radio—and are migrating towards new media like web-based content, online video, and most importantly, mobile. It’s where the audiences are headed, and therefore, where the money, and the opportunities, are also headed.
As someone who has seen more than his fair share of Moscow traffic jams and spent innumerable hours riding Moscow subway trains, I’ve come to appreciate the ability to pull out my mobile device and play games and consume content during my commute.
But with the increasing adoption of tablet devices here in Moscow (and elsewhere), I’m even more excited about what I see is a transition of pop entertainment from the vastly different, fragmented landscapes of the silver screen, television, printed books and comics, nonfiction periodicals like magazines and newspapers, and eBooks—each of which have their own best practices, legal precedents, and rules of engagement—all converging onto the big, beautiful screens of tablet computers with high-resolution displays.
Mobile tablets, I feel, represent the next step in the evolution of entertainment. They are a platform that ably handles books, TV, movies, and even video games, all on the same device. As connected and wireless hardware, tablets elegantly handle streaming videos from open-ended businesses like YouTube as well as from official content providers like Netflix and Hulu as easily as they handle acting as eReaders for digitally-‐delivered novels from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
And given that tablets have been home, for some time, to interactive and massively social video games with unique, alternate business models, such as free-to-download / free-to-play usage, they’ve primed their audiences to consume content in an entirely new way, free from the traditional commercial interruptions that have, frankly, worn out their welcome.
As someone who has worked for some time in the mobile content and application business, I couldn’t be more excited about what the future holds.
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Alexander Vashchenko’s work in mobile content & apps includes tenure as executive producer at Russian game studios IT-Territory and Game Insight. His current venture, NARR8, is a cross-platform, free-to-use mobile content channel, delivering motion comics and interactive fiction / nonfiction content to worldwide consumers.
Alexander Vashchenko (pictured above), president of NARR8, has written this article exclusively for RMN Digital.
This article is published under the RMN Digital’s “Thought Leaders” series in which top tech market leaders of the world express their views on different burning issues and market trends.
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