A new chapter today for Rutube, the YouTube of Russia: the user-generated video site, long competing against YouTube in its home market and losing, has redesigned and is now turning itself into more of an aggregator that will host content from Google’s video giant as well as Vimeo, as part of a new content injection that will also include full-length feature films. Rutube has also announced an integration with Facebook that will let users watch videos on Rutube that have been shared on the social network. Similar deals with Facebook’s Russian rival, Vkontakte, and Twitter will be following in the autumn.
The moves are part of a new beta version of the site that Rutube, owned by the Russian conglomerate Gazprom, will also include the addition of premium, branded content — a move that it hopes will increase engagement and page views among its 7.1 million unique monthly users, and help it better compete against YouTube, which has 24.9 million uniques, according to comScore.
All players concerned are going after a market that some have estimated is Europe’s biggest for Internet use, with 53 million users according to figures from GP Bullhound. It also says it’s growing the fastest — currently at 14 percent compared to the European average of six percent. Within that, there is a fast-rising middle class of users, with disposable income to go towards premium content, and other goods sold via online ads.
By tapping into Facebook’s open graph, Rutube users will be able to watch videos on Rutube that have been shared on Facebook, and subsequently share viewed selections with their friends. Vkontakte and Twitter will come on with a similar integration in the autumn. “Further integrations will allow us to become a unifier of all video that one’s friends are viewing on social networks,” Rutube’s deputy director general, Alexander Dunaevskiy says.
Rutube is sweetening the pot for Facebook sharing by offering users of the sharing feature free access to Russian feature films and TV programs before their network release. (Today’s release: a musical comedy, Chapiteau-show.)
Alongside these new video offerings, Rutube says it will continue to be a home to user-generated content, which it will now organise into curated channels.
Rutube is sensitive to the idea that its pivot into aggregation — from its original roots as a home for its own user-generated content — will be seen as a pure traffic-play.
“The reason for the pivot is ambition and leveraging social networks and the user graph to provide better recommendations of videos, stuff that people will be more likely to enjoy, not for a lack of traffic,” said Dunaevskiy. “We believe this approach is key to providing our users with an improved experience and to grow the business more aggressively.”
Dunaevskiy says that it chose Facebook as its first partner over Vkontakte, despite the latter being the biggest social network in Russia, because “We believe it is growing quickly and will become the leader in the social space in the near future in Russia.” He adds that Rutube has “a good working relationship with the folks in the Facebook Russia office and have a similar philosophy and approach as Facebook does.”
The Facebook/Rutube relationship has actually extended in another way, too — Rutube chose the same designer as Facebook, the Cuban Council, for its new logo.
For Facebook, any content relationship that helps it grow its Russian business can only help, and the focus on video here is right in line with Facebook’s bigger strategy to offer more content to users and become the platform for curated content — an ambition that also got a boost yesterday from an Olympics streaming deal with the BBC.
“There is a huge amount of interesting videos on the web, and people sometimes get lost amongst such a wide variety of choices,” says Ekatirina Skorobogatova, growth manager of Facebook Russia, in a statement. “If your friends like a video or recommended a video, it is likely that you will like it as well.”
Sites like Facebook and Google have yet to gain ground over local competitors in Russia: Vkontakte has around 60 percent of the market, according to LiveInternet; Yandex has more than 80 percent of all search).
Ironically, in online video, YouTube has run away with the crown: in addition to having more monthly uniques, it’s dwarfing Rutube in pageviews, with YouTube having 1,540 million per month, compared to only 40 million per month for Rutube. To reach parity on numbers like those, Rutube will need all the help it can get.