Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Russian TV Audience Increasingly Wants More than First Channel Offers

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 19 – For years it has been a commonplace that the Kremlin uses television to promote its vision of Russia with a mass audience even as the more educated strata of the population turn to the Internet to get alternative and often more accurate accounts of what is going on.

            That is still true, Mikhail Asketov observes in an article on the “Osobaya bukhva” portal yesterday, but the large television audience is changing as well, costing the government’s First Channel its long-time lead in viewers and leading to the rise of NTV which gives a simulacrum of accurate information (

            According to Asketov, Russia’s television viewers increasingly at least some of the time want more “serious” and less obviously massaged information. As a result, NTV now has passed First Channel and the two are barely ahead of Russia-1, with 13.9 percent, 13.7 percent and 13.6 percent respectively.
            Of course, the commentator continues, no one would confuse programming on NTV with the even more serious journalism offered on some websites, “but in our country live millions of people who are not able to use the Internet as a media source and who do not listen to opposition FM radio stations.”

            The First Channel maintained its lead for a long time relying on “the sympathies of the most archaic strata of the population” and providing programming which “corresponds to their taste and intellectual requirements.” That is what it is still doing, but it is losing audience shar because the Russian television audience is increasingly variegated.

            One can say, Asketov says, that “if the First Channel along with Russia-1 is the lower paleolithic, then the middle and the upper [paleolithic stratas] are served by NTV and programs of its spirit found on certain other channels.”  And those middle and upper stratas are increasing in number just as the Internet audience in Russia is expanding.

            And that “upper” stratum, “the more intellectual one,” Asketov continues, “is becoming somewhat higher in comparison with the lower paleolithic audience which does not even pretend to any intellectual interest.” Such people want “to hear wise words and answers to serious questions” and to be able to say that they only watch “serious broadcasts.”

            In fact, NTV does not provide the highest level of programming and is much degraded even from what its broadcasts were doing in the 1990s. But because it like the other stations is interested in attracting an audience, it is at least providing something that the government’s First Channel does not.

            Asketov says that no one should make too much of these distinctions within the television audience at least for the time being, but they are an indication that all Russian television viewers are not all the same, that they are changing just as the country is, and that the regime cannot rely on its TV station to generate support for itself by offering its propaganda.


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