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News

Netflix's Desire for World Domination Reaches Russia

China, the world's most populous country, might have slipped through its fingers, but with Russia Netflix in January pocketed the largest country by landmass and the promise of tapping into a booming online market.

Netflix's move into Russia, along with 129 other countries, was heralded by its CEO as the "birth of a global TV network."

The streaming giant's formula of offering subscribers online access to box office hit films and series has already taken the United States and much of Europe by storm, where it has more than 70 million users. Its core strategy is simple: First, offer people content they want to watch. Then, make them pay to watch it online.

Netflix's prospects in Russia are promising: The country has a culture of television watching and boasts one of the fastest growing Internet audiences in the world.

Disappointment

The announcement of the Russia launch was widely met with enthusiasm both among locals and foreigners living in Russia. One American expat on Twitter compared it to "eating flatbread pizza after fasting for a week."

But the euphoria was short-lived and comments on forums and Russian social media websites quickly turned sour. As in many other countries, the interface of the Russian Netflix website — its buttons, directory and messages — are all in English. The service is "uncomfortable" for Russians, said television critic and Rossiiskaya Gazeta journalist Susanna Alperina.

More importantly, many of the series available do not offer Russian-language subtitles or dubbing. Even for tech-savvy youth, the language barrier is a major obstacle likely to turn away many of Russia's 84 million Internet users.

Netflix's practice of having separate licensing agreements in every country also means it offers less content on the Russian website than on its U.S. counterpart. Whereas the U.S. version has roughly 5,700 movies and television series, the Russian Netflix only offers around 720, the Unofficial Netflix Online Global Search website shows.

And then there's the price tag. A monthly Netflix subscription will cost Russians at least 8 euros, or 660 rubles — more than the average Internet bill. It is pricier than Netflix's main Russian rival, ivi.ru, which costs 399 rubles a month and offers free content.

With the ruble devaluation and more economic turmoil expected this year, the cost could discourage subscribers.

In fact, the only Russia-specific adaptation Netflix appears to have made is to block access to users in Crimea — the peninsula annexed by Russia in March 2014 — in compliance with U.S. regulations restricting American business there.

Netflix is selling Russians less content, much of it in a language they don't speak and at a prohibitive price. Hardly a great buy, according to many disappointed Russian fans. "No one wants Netflix the way it is now," programmer Dmitry Alexeyev, 25, said.

Netflix did not respond to a request for comment from the Moscow Times.