Dominic Swire in Prague -
Six months after Bob, an electrician from Montana in the US, met Russian bride Marina Salivan through the dating site Rudate.ru they were married. In their testimonial on the website, Marina explains that Bob, 45, was attracted to Russia because the beauty of the girls from there is world-renowned.
Bob and Marina are among a growing number of couples who have met via Russian dating websites. But whereas in the past many Russian dating agencies were geared toward pairing Russian girls with foreign husbands, these days an increasing number of Russians are using them to find love in their own country.
In a market experiencing huge growth, dating sites are the single biggest revenue generators on the web in Russia, surpassing even gaming and music and video sites. And those with money to invest in the sector have started to notice.
Love and money
In March, RosBusinessConsulting (RBC), a leading Moscow-based media company, announced it had bought a controlling stake in Loveplanet.ru, one of the two most popular Russian online dating services. Established 18 months ago, Loveplanet.ru boasts 5m registered users and is linked on more than 2,000 partner sites. In addition to traditional dating services, the site offers a wide range of other services, including personal messages, games, diaries and quizzes.
Commenting on the deal, Mikhail Gurevich, general director of RBC subsidiary Media Mir, said: "With the audience of the Russian internet seeing constant growth, we expect the number of visitors to dating websites to further increase. A wider range of services and features offered on these resources will make online dating even more popular."
The move is part of RBC's $120m expansion of internet services in Russia and the rest of Central and Eastern Europe. In addition to dating sites, the company plans to put money into gaming and entertainment sites, blogs, and media-sharing sites. RBC aims to reach an internet audience of 50m individual users a month and 10m users a day in CEE by 2009, which the management expects will lead to annual revenues of $70m-100m.
According to iKS Consulting, which monitors the Russian digital content market, revenues of online dating services in Russia quadrupled to $34m last year, almost half of the $73m that the internet market generated as a whole, making it the single biggest revenue generator. The second largest sector was online gaming, with $30m, then music and video with $9m.
Elena Krylova, an analyst at iKS, says Russian online dating services are becoming more popular partly because the growing size of Russian cities makes it harder for people to find each other. "The problem for large cities is the loneliness of people. Due to the era of the internet, more and more consumers are using this as a main tool for communication. The online dating services are becoming more and more popular due to the convenience of quick responses, the ability to see images, anonymity, etc. The growing number of internet users pushes the popularity of this service further," she says.
According to comScore Networks, which measures internet use around the world, Russia has 12.7m internet users, a 21% increase from its 10.5m users in 2006. Only India, at 33%, saw faster growth in internet use over the past year.
While those numbers sound impressive, Russia still has much room for growth. In absolute terms, it has, at most, half as many users as South Korea, France, the UK and Germany, and a quarter as many as Japan.
With an increasingly wealthy population of around 140m, Russia must look as tempting to internet service providers as its natural gas fields do to multinational energy companies.
According to Robert Farish, regional director for Russia and CIS at telecommunications consultants IDC, one of the main reasons for this is the growing accessibility of broadband connection in Russia, the price of which has dropped over the last few years to a level comparable with dial-up. "There has been a real sea change in internet usage as the number of broadband connections doubled in 2006. That's a very, very steep rate of growth," says Farish said.
If internet dating in Russia really does take off, it could help soothe one of President Vladimir Putin's headaches: a shrinking population.
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