Did the IMF Ask M&E to Align Against Russia’s War on Ukraine?

IMF Chair & Managing Director, Kristalina Georgieva.
IMF Chair & Managing Director, Kristalina Georgieva (former VP, European Commission and former Acting President of the World Bank. Photo credit: REUTERS/Mike Theiler.

The loss of a major foreign market for independent film adds to an alignment of international interests and emphasises the global value of the Media & Entertainment industry’s soft power.

Fuel hikes, increased cost of trade and transportation and the very real prospect of a global food crisis have been keeping economists, titans of industry and political leaders wide awake at night as Russia’s war in Ukraine continues.  But the cultural exchange and real, human connections forged by international film and television shows imported into the widely diverse Russian-speaking content markets is another tragic, surreal loss with wide-ranging consequences beyond economics. 

The human cost in emotional anguish, physical pain and death caused by Russia’s military invasion into Ukraine may never be fully understood by those not directly involved.  What is being measured on a global-level are the economic consequences the events of every day since 24 February 2022 have begun to accrue to ordinary human beings around the world, including those in once ubiquitous republics of the former Soviet Union that benefited (emphasis on the past-tense) from Russian as a common trade-language.

As the war in Ukraine nears a full year of industrial violence, its effect on the fault lines between other simmering global issues has growing implications.  Divisive rhetoric, political manoeuvring and populist polarisation increasingly surround globally consequential issues. The war in Ukraine has effectively dampened productive political discussion on China’s continued ascendancy, the damaging effects of climate change and growing pressure on avenues of human migration from the damaged regions of our planet.

The latest economic forecasts from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) see global growth cut nearly in half from 6.1% in 2021 to 3.6% in 2022 due in large part to Russia’s war on Ukraine and it’s knock on effects.  The head of the IMF opened the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in May this year with dire warnings of humanity’s biggest test since the Second World War.

In remarks published through the IMF, its Chair and Managing Director, Kristalina Georgieva, urged our planet’s most influential politicians and corporate heads, including those in the Media & Entertainment industry, not to “surrender to the forces of geo-economic fragmentation that will make our world poorer and more dangerous.” 

See the full blog-post from the IMF.

“The overlap between Davos and Cannes offers a window into the connections between politics, economics and a culturally influential industry with US$2.4 trillion in annual revenues.”

Perhaps not coincidentally, the World Economic Forum in Davos coincided with this year’s pivotal Festival de Cannes and its highly commercial Marché du Film.  After several years of pandemic disruption, the Cannes Film Festival brought together some of the most potent cultural, political and economic influencers that are also regular attendees at World Economic Forum events.  The overlapping events occurred as the true ramifications of the war in Ukraine became open topics of discussion between the world’s most highly influential minds with a clear exclusion of official Russian voices.

Earlier, within days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the organisers in Cannes had cut all ties with official Russia.  A published statement advised that the Festival de Cannes “wishes to extend all its support to the people of Ukraine and all those who are in its territory. Unless the war of assault ends in conditions that will satisfy the Ukrainian people, it has been decided that we will not welcome official Russian delegations nor accept the presence of anyone linked to the Russian government”. 

Read the full communique.  

Soft Power

The Media C-Suite can report that this is not inconsequential.  As the popularity of the Davos event attests, money talks.  The overlap between Davos and Cannes offers a window into the connections between politics, economics and a culturally influential industry with US$2.4 trillion in annual revenues. It is unlikely that the soft power of the Media & Entertainment industry is not on the minds of every politician and influential world leader.

A term coined by American political scientist Joseph Nye, “soft power” is the power of persuasion and attraction, the seduction of ideas and ideals rather than the “hard power” of coercion or violence.

Converting the economic incentives of commercial enterprise into an exercise of soft power directed at the Russian population, rather than its leadership, is adept strategy.  Russia’s President Putin has justified his invasion of Ukraine with a highly revisionist history and clear animosity toward the watershed events of the 1990s, which saw the population of Russia openly embrace the cultural and economic values of the West. Taken perhaps as mere coincidence, those watershed moments of the Soviet system coincided directly with the Media & Entertainment industry’s efforts to make money from the Russian population’s intense desire to publicly enjoy Hollywood films.

Russian box office revenues entered the minds of studio execs in 1996 when the newly refurbished Kodak Kinomir’s single-screen theatre premiered Michael Bay-directed The Rock staring Nicolas Cage and Sean Connery. Within a single year, the Kodak Kinomir became the top-grossing single screen movie theatre in the world, according to Paul Heath, Executive Chairman and CEO of Karo Group in his Keynote Speech to the KinoExpo in St. Petersburg in September 2021. 

Movie Poster: The Rock
Poster credit: Hollywood Pictures/The Walt Disney Company.

Mr. Heath, who was personally involved in the project recited a distinctive memory during his presentation. “Ticket lines stretched for nearly a kilometre.” 

Read Mr. Heath’s full Keynote Speech.

By 2017, Russia had become the largest market for European film producers by box office admissions according to the European Audio-Visual Observatory. 

See the full OBS-COE report here.

By 2019, Russia had become the 9th largest foreign market for US productions according to the published THEME report by the Motion Picture Association of America. 

Read the full 2019 MPA Theme report.

By 2020, the Russian-speaking markets had become the fourth largest cinema market by number of tickets sold, according to published data from Statistica. 

See the Statista data here

Despite the Covid-19 global pandemic, the market for films and television inside the expansive Russian-language market was of growing global interest and connected the once isolated Russian population to the rest of the world as no politician could. 

The 2019 box office in the Russian Federation was worth far more than US$1 billion in annual revenues and rising.  But this is not the full picture.  Netflix, active in the Russian market since 2016, had seen steady growth in subscriber numbers, content acquisition expenditures and revenues. 

Russian produced, Netflix Original Series.
Russian produced, Netflix Original Series. Poster credit: Netflix.

Streaming offered Russian film-makers the opportunity to build audiences outside Russia with positive reviews and growing demand.  In 2020, Netflix accounted for only 25% of the streaming market share for film and television shows in the Russian-language market, with local Russian Streamers IVI and Kinopisk raking in the lion’s share of subscriber revenues. 

The Media C-Suite estimates that total Russian-language entertainment content market revenues for film and television, including linear cable, satellite and broadcast television was closer to US$2.5 billion annually.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022 reduced the legitimate financial value of that market to effectively zero. Netflix reported its first drop in subscriber acquisitions in the first quarter of 2022 with the loss of an estimated one million Russian subscribers following its decision to withdraw from that market due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Despite the economic value of Media & Entertainment, the diplomatic, cultural and humanitarian value of international media influence within Russia is immeasurable.  

The Media C-Suite can report that the lost revenues from the Russian-language market for international media and entertainment content may purchase an opportunity that the IMF and other multilateral organisations recognise.  The “soft power” of Media & Entertainment to bridge divides between age, cultures and ideologies, long recognised by politicians, economists and ad agencies alike, has an effect far beyond politics.

One of Putin’s heroes, Joseph Stalin famously stated that, “If I could control the medium of the American motion picture, I would need nothing more to convert the entire world to communism.” Luckily, Putin is no Stalin, and he has no control over the global Media & Entertainment industry.

While a new “iron curtain” hardens around Putin’s economic influence, the cultural and political divides once thought eradicated by the fall of the Soviet Union are developing into a new type of global pandemic that only human story-telling may have the power to heal.  With film and television consumption in Russia likely to be reduced to Soviet Era choices between piracy and propaganda, the international Media & Entertainment industry will likely wield political and economic influence inside Russia, and elsewhere, far in excess of Western politicians. 

For political multilateral organisations like the IMF, turning to the global Media & Entertainment industry as if it were another multilateral organisation, is good strategy.

As Walt Disney famously stated, “of all our inventions for mass communications, pictures still speak the universally understood language.”  

(An earlier version of this article was published on August 15, 2022)

1 Comment

  1. Russia is not going to come out of this well.

    But it’s interesting that the IMF recognises the power of the Media industry to influence world opinion. If that is what the article is stating. As if that is neeeded.

    Also interesting that Saudi Arabia seems to have the same idea. See the article on Saudi’s investment strategy.

Leave a Reply

Previous Story

Meta Sued for Invasion of Privacy in Potential US$1T Class Action

Next Story

25 of the Most Expensive Television Series of All Time