Russia's biggest online social network, a website called Vkontakte (“In Touch”), is only getting bigger. In fact, Vkontakte has become so popular that its daily audience among people ages 12–34 now surpasses any television channel in Russia, a new study shows.
According to data collected in September, Vkontakte's daily traffic among young Russians has skyrocketed to 2.2 million people. In this age group, second-place Yandex attracts 2.1 million visitors, followed by Google.ru (1.7 million) and Mail.ru (1.4 million). Among Russians ages 12–34, the most popular Russian television channel, TNT, attracts just 1.3 million daily viewers. Networks like Rossiya-1 and NTV fail to get even a million viewers in this coveted age group.
Dmitry Sergeyev, a top executive at Mail.ru (Vkontakte's parent company), says the website's success is due to the growing popularity of mobile devices.
Люди проводят время ВКонтакте, даже когда смотрят телевизор. Особенно это заметно в городах-миллионниках, прежде всего в Москве и Петербурге, но постепенно тенденция охватывает всю страну.
People are spending time on Vkontakte even when they watch television. We see this especially in cities with over a million residents, like Moscow and St. Petersburg, but the trend is spreading all over the country.
Vkontakte's exploding popularity suggests that younger Russians rely less on televised news, where the government exercises greater control over the circulation of information, and more on the relatively unregulated Internet. A disputed June 2014 study by FOM, the Kremlin's favorite polling agency, however, found that 87 percent of Russians still get their news from television, despite higher traffic on social networks, which appears to be due more to the growing popularity of games, videos, and other forms of entertainment.
Could Russians, if they spared more time for information instead of entertainment, make better use of social networks’ superior access to unfiltered news? Not necessary. Even Vkontakte, sometimes considered a counterweight to the Kremlin's stranglehold on traditional mass media in Russia, belongs to billionaire Alisher Usmanov, whose loyalty to Vladimir Putin is unquestioned.