TV Rain, Russia's only fully independent TV station, continues the struggle for existence with the help of its viewers. The week-long telethon [Global Voices report] that started at the end of March has collected enough funds to maintain broadcasting for just over 53 days [ru].
TV Rain was founded in April, 2010 as an online broadcaster, and hit one million monthly viewers per month a year later. During the 2012 presidential election, it attracted even more eyeballs, since it was the only TV station that gave air-time to opposition leaders. Before it was recently dropped by 90% of Russia's cable providers, its audience reached 17,5 million households. Since then this number has decreased to 2.5 million.
Since about 70% of TV Rain's revenue came from TV advertisement, the drop necessitated a change in the business model. The management decided to ask viewers for subscription fees and donations — funding methods used by some western TV and radio stations, like America's National Public Broadcasting.
The fundraising effort was supported by RuNet users both in Russia and abroad. Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia, tweeted:
Check out the telethon that TVRain (http://t.co/EbDEKnLFJG) is running. TVRain is quality , independent journalism that Russia & world need.
— Michael McFaul (@McFaul) March 24, 2014
Russian poet Andrei Lozhkin asked [ru] on a self-publishing website for writers (Proza.ru):
не лучше ли слышать, хоть иногда, альтернативное мнение? Если мнение будет только у государства, то с чем его сравнить будет можно?
is it not better to hear an alternative opinion, at least sometimes? If only the state will have opinions, what could you compare them to?
According to TV Rain owner [ru], Aleksandr Vinokurov, right now the channel needs 20.6 million rubles (0.5 million dollars) per month to survive. This number is half of what was initially budgeted for 2014. In comparison, state owned Russia Today spent 933 million rubles (26 million dollars) per month in 2013. Vinokurov said that the channel is cutting costs where possible — currently the CEO is getting paid only 14,000 rubles (or $400) per month.
Some of TV Rain's support also comes from Ukranians, who see it as one of few friendly Russian media resources. According to Alexa, 68.2% of TV Rain internet viewers come from Russia and 11% from Ukraine. However, the number of Ukrainian viewers is growing. Between March 16 and March 29 TV Rain moved from 174th to 132nd spot in Ukraine. The website's rank is also growing in Russia, moving from 101st to 76th place.
Although right now TV Rain has funds enough for two more months of broadcasting and its internet reach is increasing, nobody can protect it if Russia's censorship juggernaut turns in its direction. As the recent blockages of opposition websites show [Global Voices report], the Kremlin can shut down any RuNet website with impunity.