Ivi.ru the “Hulu of Russia” that offers streamed premium TV and films from international and local big-name content holders, has raised another $40 million round of funding. The investment was led by Baring Vostok, a private equity firm, along with existing investors ru-Net, Tiger Global, Prof-Media and Frontier Ventures. Oleg Tumanov, ivi.ru founder and CEO, tells TechCrunch that the funds will be used to build out both the company’s technology as well as its content catalog, amid rumors that ivi’s inspiration — Hulu itself — as well as Netflix are eyeing up a move into the Russian market.
The company does not disclose how much money the site has raised since launching in February 2010, but Tumanov notes that prior to this ivi.ru had raised “several dozen millions” of dollars in investment.
Although Tumanov acknowledges that Hulu and Netflix have been sniffing around his patch, he says that without knowing the final conclusion of that story, this investment is also about continuing to build out its own offering, to better compete with existing players like YouTube and RuTube.
RuTube itself in June made a stronger move into offering premium content, as part of a wider redesign that also included a new logo from Facebook’s designers, the Cuban Council.
YouTube, meanwhile, is currently the country’s most popular online video site, with 24.9 million monthly uniques according to comScore.
In contrast, ivi says it gets over 10 million monthly uniques, watching more than 50 million videos across its website and mobile apps. Those numbers, Tumanov says, have grown by leaps in the last couple of years (a year ago, the site only had 3 million visitors).
Tumanov says that the wider picture is that ivi, Rutube, YouTube and any other comers are still playing in a “market that is in an early stage of development,” with broadband take up still growing strong. Indeed, figures from GP Bullhound put Russia’s internet market already as the biggest in Europe with 53 million users. It’s also growing the fastest, at a rate of 14% compared to a continent average of 6%.
This investment will be about enhancing content as well as technology. On the content side, Ivi already has probably the widest online video catalog of any of them — over 65,000 titles including feature and documentary films, TV shows, cartoons and music videos from “all the major Hollywood studios and music majors as well as major European and Russian film and TV producers,” it says. But that would pale in comparison if Hulu or Netflix do decide to enter the Russian market with their extensive catalogs.
On the technology side, it’s the same story as it has been for Netflix, Hulu and other players in this space: increasing ubiquity and the ability to make viewing as frictionless as possible. “We would like to bring more content to our users, and we would definitely like to develop a better user experience and eventually be on every device,” he said. That will include multiple mobile platforms and devices, as well as smart TVs, he says.
Other online players in sectors like e-commerce are using fat funding rounds to expand to new markets adjacent to Russia (they include Ozon, ‘Russia’s Amazon’, picking up $100 million; and KupiVIP, ‘Russia’s Gilt’, getting $38.5 million). Ivi, however, sees more opportunity in growing domestically first, since that is where the current — and potential — competition will be felt first.
“Russia is still the primary market for us. There is still a lot of growth here, and we would like to keep our leading market position in Russia and to engage and bring more users,” he said. “We do not exclude adjacent markets in the former Soviet Union, but we’re still considering these plans for future expansion. Nothing to announce now.” And it has another advantage, in the form of being a local company that can potentially better target local content and have a better handle on how that local content is consumed.