Straight answers in response to straight questions is far from the default position in Hollywood where piracy is concerned. The topic is always controversial, and most of the interesting questions have answers that have the potential to make it even more so.
Whether the details will ever see the light of day is unclear, but the discussions that led to Hollywood ending theatrical releases in Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine must’ve been fascinating.
Corporations are rarely considered worthy recipients of sympathy votes, but tearing down a patiently-built market that had overcome many piracy challenges over the previous decade won’t have been easy, even if it was necessary.
Can’t Buy It Legally? Someone Will Sell It Illegally
The developing legal content market in Russia has always faced stiff competition from pirates. Improvement in content availability gave consumers choice beyond the ‘piracy’ default, but with no new Hollywood content available to buy, there was never any doubt that pirates would attempt to pick up the slack.
That some Russian cinemas were able to screen major Hollywood movies in perfect quality still came as a surprise. By December 2022, alongside the screenings of Avatar: The Way of Water, people spoke of major movies being supplied complete with Russian dubbing by sources in Kazakhstan.
While welcomed by Russian movie fans, these releases faced inevitable and immediate competition from pirates. A high-quality telesync copy of Avatar 2, presumably recorded from an unlicensed screening in Russia, was among other titles that exploited the growing theatrical pirate market in Russia, or at least for as long as it lasted.
WesternRus: Russia’s Hollywood Movie Supplier
After being referenced in the media regularly but rarely by name, last week an announcement made by Kazakhstan-based company ‘WesternRus’ leaked from its private Telegram channel and into the hands of journalists. Cinema industry publication ProfiCinema identified WesternRus as the main supplier of Western movies to Russian theaters.
ProfiCinema said that WesternRus had been supplying new Hollywood releases that had already undergone localization. Transactions took place on WesternRus’ Telegram channel, where the company would hand out keys to theatrical distributors for use in cinemas for a limited number of days.
“The cost of such keys averaged 100 thousand rubles during the ‘premiere’ period. From week to week, the price proportionally decreased depending on the relevance and freshness of the content,” ProfiCinema revealed.
It appears that price-cutting and piracy quickly took their toll on a collapsing market.
WesternRus: Too Much Piracy, We’re done
In a message posted to its Telegram account obtained by ProfiCinema, last week WesternRus announced the end of its theatrical venture.
“We are suspending the release of all previously announced releases,” WesternRus’ message reads. According to the company, the main reason for closing down is that too many groups are illegally recording (camming) ‘WesternRus’ releases and distributing them online. The company says that the main culprits are domestic cinema chains and other third-party companies.
“An anonymous source in the cinema community confirmed that the struggle of pirates for the ‘treasure island’ – the Russian film market – has been going on for more than one month. In particular, the domestic dubbing studio Red Head Sound was in serious competition with the Kazakh company, and their first step was dumping. WesternRus supported this game by offering a flexible system of discounts for regular customers, but, nevertheless, could not stand it,” ProfiCinema reports.
With little to no new Western content being made available in Russia legally, demand for pristine copies of movies is only likely to increase. Whether WesternRus will reemerge as a supplier is unknown.
At least for now, it appears that despite having zero production costs, WesternRus cannot make piracy pay because too many pirates give content away for free. It’s a claim as old as piracy itself.
Image credit: Pixabay/Conmongt