Rambler Launching TV/Movie Downloads Site, A ‘Russian Hulu’

imageRussia’s third-placed search and portal operator Rambler is to launch a major TV and movie site – described to me as a “Russian Hulu” – as the basis of its video advertising effort, as Russia’s broadband population booms. Currently in beta and due to launch by September/October, Rambler Kinozal (“cinema”) will offer titles for download rather than web streaming – interestingly, each show can be transferred freely, even throughout P2P networks, because files are hard-wired with DRM and ads.

Programming comes from Russia’s Star Media, TV Scope, TNT, NTV and CTV networks. “By the middle of 2009, it will contain approximately 2,000 hours, all premium TV series as well as full-length Russian feature films and TV movies,” Rambler’s sales and strategic partner director Anna Znamenskaya told me. “The television channels rarely hold non-linear rights so we are dealing directly and only with the content owners who hold the relevant rights for our use.”

Russia’s online population is forecast to become Europe’s second largest on 40 million next year, thanks to falling broadband prices. “We are going to further develop the video part of the portal and Kinozal is one of the steps in this direction,” Znamenskaya said. “Any service that is attractive for the user makes Rambler more competitive. Our video service is the first of its kind in the Russian market and we expect great traction.” Rambler has not yet announced the service, which has not yet been spoken about outside Russia, so you’re pretty much reading it here first.

Rambler’s service is being built by VOWeb, a new UK company established to construct video services powered by technology from Israel’s Hiro Media. Hiro’s Positive DRM invention bundles a multi-platform video codec and advert in with a movie file, while a second layer adds a geolock and temporal control to ensure the file can be viewed only in certain territories and will expire after a set time. People are free to spread the downloads around – as long as the viewing machine is online, VOWeb and Rambler will know who watched.

Ad sales are handled by IMHO VI and downloads are big – up to 1.1Gb – but Rambler reckons it has a fast internet backbone. Hiro CEO Ariel Napchi told me he expects CPMs of just below the average $45 to $50 achieved by files with Positive DRM.

“The idea of providing free legitimate content to the user where, ordinarily, they settle for bad quality pirate copies seems to be a ‘win-win’ situation for users as well as content owners and advertisers,” Znamenskaya added. “Positive DRM helps us in receiving the rights to the content as, for the first time, we can ensure our partners that their content will be protected even through file sharing, which is popular in Russia as in other countries.”

Though Rambler is VOWeb’s first partner, it is targeting eastern Europe, with sites due in Poland and Hungary by January 2009 and, later, in Romania, Czech Republic, Serbia, Croatia, Turkey and Argentina. Hiro’s technology has also been used by BT Vision, NBC