Microsoft to Help Put Rossia on Web

Russian webheads will soon have the chance to watch their favorite television programs on the Internet thanks to Microsoft, which on Tuesday inked a deal with Rossia state television's parent company to put entertainment and children's programs online.

The deal comes just days after Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer visited Moscow last week and met with Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov.

Birger Steen, Microsoft general manager for Russia, said the joint project, which would use Microsoft's Silverlight platform, would bring the All-Russia State TV and Radio Company, or VGTRK, the media holding that includes Rossia, in line with international standards and guarantee information security for its programs online.

Both companies will initially put $3 million into the project, which will start putting children's programs online "within weeks," Steen said.

"The agreement [will] enable the creation of a media technology incubator or joint platform [to enable] Microsoft and VGTRK specialists [to] create not just new Internet resources but a model of 21st-century media resources," he said.

Dmitry Mednikov, editor of Rossia's flagship news program "Vesti," dubbed the deal "a humanitarian-cum-social project," indicating that it was a not-for-profit venture.

"This is an audience that we as a company don't see as a revenue opportunity," said Steen. "We see it as an investment in future generations."

Ballmer was in Moscow on Friday to speak at a technology conference. Industry participants said his visit was likely connected with the software giant looking to open another front in its war for Internet dominance worldwide.

Steen said on the sideline of Tuesday's briefing that Microsoft had signed no package agreement with government officials during Ballmer's visit but said the company was interested in gaining Russian market share.

"To the extent that [Ballmer] had talks with officials about how the Internet is going to change both business and consumers markets here with strong emphasis on broadband growth in that sense, you could say they are related," Steen said in an interview.

"This [project] is also based on the presumption that in two or three years, Russia is going to be by far the biggest broadband Internet market in Europe," Steen said.

As well as helping put VGTRK's popular children's programs online, Microsoft will provide safeguards against spam and pornography, Mednikov said.

"We regard kids' online resources as our area of responsibility, and we intend to make them both attractive and entertaining, and at the same time educational in character," Mednikov said.

VGTRK, the country's second-largest television holding, claims 65 million peak-time viewers.

Mednikov said there had been structural changes in information consumption in Russia, with most consumers now preferring to get information online.

The companies also hope to broadcast "Vesti" and sports programming online soon, he said.