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Popular Russian Search Engine Outstrips State-TV Audience

The upsurge in the number of people using the services of the Yandex search engine reflects the rise of the Internet in Russia, analysts say.
The upsurge in the number of people using the services of the Yandex search engine reflects the rise of the Internet in Russia, analysts say.
Yandex, Russia's biggest search engine, drew a record 19 million visitors each day last month, outstripping the country's most popular state-run television channel for the first time.

A study released by research firm TNS suggests that the Internet is emerging as an increasingly popular source of information in a news market dominated by state-run television.

According to the study, as many as 19.1 million people consulted Yandex in April compared with 18.2 million for the state-controlled Channel One television station.

The study comes as Russia witnesses a wave of anti-Kremlin protests that have been largely played down by state television, but which have received widespread coverage on the Internet.

However, according to media analyst Aleksei Pankin, Yandex's success could simply be down to the spectacular rise of the Russian Internet, known in Russia as Runet.

"The main reason is very rapid Internet penetration," he says. "Both broadband and mobile Internet is expanding very fast in Russia."

"Very fast" means 25 percent annual growth -- one of the fastest Internet growth rates in the world.

Room For Expansion

Russia's Internet market still has plenty more room for expansion, with only about 40 percent of Russians describing themselves as regular Internet users.

Last year, Yandex reported income of more than $7 billion and raised $1.4 billion in an initial public offering on the NASDAQ stock exchange.

The company, which is often described as "Russia's Google," says it intends to capitalize on the new figures to boost its advertising revenues.

But Yandex spokesman Ochir Mandzhikov has indicated that the company does not plan to expand its media platform.

"Defeating the leading player and becoming the biggest media resource was never our goal," he says. "That's just the way things turned out, mainly thanks to a factor not related to us -- the Runet's very rapid penetration. But this was no surprise to us."

To be sure, the figures don't tell the whole story. The vast majority of Russians remain avid television watchers.

Those who visit Yandex also do not necessarily consult its news section. And the study only covered people living in cities with a population of 100,000 or more.

According to the independent Levada polling center, almost nine in ten Russians watch television every day.

About 70 percent of the population gets its news from Russia's three national state-run television channels, and no more than 20 percent get their information from the Internet.

Less than one percent watches the independent online television station Dozhd.

Likeminded Online Communities

Denis Volkov, a Levada sociologist, maintains that this situation is particularly evident in the provinces.

"The situation differs in big cities, where the Internet is gradually catching up with television," he says. "But 60 percent of Russians live outside big cities in places where the Internet does not pose competition to television, both as a news source and in terms of accessibility."

On the whole, however, television's popularity as a news source is very slowly receding in favor of the Internet.

Aleksei Pankin suggests that this could eventually affect Russians' attitudes toward their political leadership in the long term.

"Theoretically, any alternative changes people's attitudes," he says. "But concerning political issues, I think people go to the Internet less for information than to find like-minded people, to seek confirmation of their own opinions."

With reporting by RFE/RL's Russian Service

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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