Prokhorov Plans Network for Snobs

VedomostiProkhorov, the country's fifth-richest man, said in his blog Wednesday that Russia should be a leader in new media.
If you don't like mingling with the rabble on Facebook or Odnoklassniki, billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov feels your pain.

Upwardly mobile Russians will soon be able to enjoy Snob, a social networking site of their own, which eventually will be accompanied by a co-branded magazine and television channel, thanks to a $150 million investment by Prokhorov and several business partners.

The invitation-only web site is aimed at "educated, successful, professional people leading a sophisticated way of life," Snob general director Andrei Shmarov said by telephone Wednesday.

"As a rule, these are generally not poor people," Shmarov said. "Wealth is not a criterion for membership, but it tends to be a quality of the target audience."

Initially, invitations will be extended to a group of 3,000 to 5,000 people, and afterward, the community will grow organically based on members' recommendations for new additions, Shmarov said.

The web site, expected to launch in June, is the first project from the ZhV media group, a new venture whose main shareholder is Onexim Group, Prokhorov's investment vehicle.

Prokhorov, sometimes referred to as the country's most eligible bachelor, is the fifth-richest Russian, with a fortune of $22.6 billion, according to Forbes Russia's rich list, published last week.

His reputation as the country's bad-boy oligarch was cemented in January 2007, when he was briefly detained by French police at the exclusive Alpine ski resort of Courchevel on suspicion of being involved with a high-end prostitution ring.

The Snob venture marks Prokhorov's first major foray into the media market.

"I think it would be very good if Russia became a world leader not just in energy, but in the creation of new intellectual products too, like new media," Prokhorov wrote on his blog Wednesday.

A spokesman for Onexim Group declined to comment about the project Wednesday, saying Prokhorov would answer reporters' questions himself at a presentation on Thursday.

The total amount being invested in the ZhV media group is $150 million, the bulk of which is coming from Prokhorov, Shmarov said.

Prokhorov's partners include the media veterans Vladimir Yakovlev, founder of Kommersant; Shmarov, who leads special projects for Expert magazine; and Yury Katsman, a former shareholder in the Sekret Firmy publishing house.

Shmarov said the first issue of Snob magazine would come out in July, to be followed later this year by Snob television, which will be broadcast only in the evenings on a pay-television channel.

The creators of Snob television have already filmed or selected 80 percent to 85 percent of their content, which will cater to people with good taste, Shmarov said.

"If we show a concert, it won't be the Spice Girls or t.A.T.u.," he said. "It will be the Louis Armstrong anniversary concert led by Ella Fitzgerald and Doc Severinson, which was an absolutely extraordinary concert, even though the footage is in black and white. Or the Rolling Stones in Belgrade."

Similarly, the Snob web site will avoid the shortcomings of Odnoklassniki, the Russian answer to Facebook, Shmarov said.

"I couldn't really care less about my classmates from 40 years ago," he said. "What I care about is people from my social circle."