Thursday, June 23, 2011

Documentary PD

Today, Russia Today "network" - with the help of the Russian President himself - launched its Documentary channel RTД. The major objective is to go beyond the simple news or short-feature format, and to take viewers "on a round-the-clock journey into the heart of Russia" (seems to me, it's some kind of a video version of the Russia Beyond the Headlines).

The news report describes the channel as exploring "history, culture, nature and science, all with a Russian twist". It will feature documentaries in English only (for now, at least) and will be broadcast 24/7. Medvedev seemed to be quite excited about the honor of making the "launching" click!

Not a bad idea. After all, one can fit much more perspective and information - particularly in terms of history and culture - into the documentary format. What's more, there is much more room for making a reasonable argument (this, perhaps, refers more specifically to historical documentaries) and presenting sufficient evidence to encourage the viewers to at least consider a different perspective (if not change the one they already held).

My guess is, however, RT won't be too successful in attracting a lot of audience with its documentary channel. The  primary target is, obviously, the Anglophone world (not to limit it to the U.S. public, for the argument's sake). Here, I'd be very curious to know who would have hours to spare for watching Russian-made documentaries on Russia itself.

This becomes an even greater problem having in mind the very short attention span of their target audiences, and more importantly, the factors of selective exposure and perception. The interested public that pays attention to various international channels (such as France24, Deutsche Welle, CCTV-9, etc.), already have a Russian representative in the bouquet: Russia Today itself. Would they be interested in getting yet another one? How much importance will they be giving it?

But then, it should also be said, they might actually prefer the documentaries over the news channel. Perhaps that's the section of the potential audience that RT is hoping to cover here...?

Then, there's the actual technical question. Although RTД now has its own website, with free live streaming (just as RT itself), it seems to be available on satellite only, covering all of Europe, most of the former Soviet area, the Greater Middle East and even some of the uninhabited parts of Greenland... but not the U.S. itself.

Really: what's the plan, again? Or even if it were available on satellite, something tells me the actual number of the audience would be much, much smaller than the desired one. But, without any first-hand insight, one can only speculate about their actual strategy.

Image from RTД.

This is a welcome ambition and a laudable attempt. Whether it's realistic and practical, however, is a different question. I hope RT did some market research before jumping into this cold water. I hope they have started negotiating with various cable TV providers, especially in the US.

RTД claims that it has a lot of material already (since its staff has been working on these documentaries for five years, apparently), so at least it has some "juice" to run on for a while. However, some of these documentaries and short films have already been aired on RT itself. So, not only is there a question about the extent of originality of content, but also about the degree to which RT will be running such programming on its "main" channel. Will they be sharing content? Fighting over it? Will RT turn to "news-and-analysis-only"? Or will they just start being redundant on both ends?

In any case, one thing is certain: Kremlin has great ambitions in public diplomacy. Information diplomacy, in particular. And, it's willing to spend big bucks on it.

Anyone interested in job opportunities? :-)

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