Acceptance Speech Natalia Sindeeva

Good evening, thank you very much!

You wouldn’t believe what and how I felt when I was listening to all these nice words. Honestly, it’s very pleasant for me, but I am dreaming of hearing similar words in Russia as well, because we work in Russia, we live in Russia.

Having said that I would wish for such a situation in Russia, everything I’ve heard here is of course great, I mean, nice that you praise me. There is a lot of truth in it.

Thank you very much, Lord Mayor, thank you much Mrs Koch, but I would like to say a few words. I would actually like to share some thoughts that I have had in the recent past – not just myself, but this is something we discuss with friends and colleagues. People who do care what is happening or people who are interested in what is happening. So what are we thinking about, what unites us here in this hall and on this planet?

We all want to be successful and sometimes we are hostages of this success. You can be a bad person, you can work in a company that cheats consumers and calls this marketing. Yet, you can be a successful and well-respected person and success is often expressed in my terms and many people would excuse you for not being a good person, you are successful after all and you made money and we allow this to happen with business people, with policy makers. We say politics is a dirty business and we also agree that terms like courage, conscience, honor etc. are often pure marketing tricks of policy makers, but this makes it possible for them to be popular and successful. Many policy makers make promises, but never put them into practice. And we citizens do hardly anything in order to really live these words and values and I think it is very important that we bare in mind that these are not just banal terms: honor, conscience and courage. This is not epocracy after all, no. These are honest virtues and it is worth fighting for them.

Human dignity and the protection of human dignity should maybe be the most important claim. It should be common – thought of an religion in today’s aggressive and intolerant world and maybe this is the most important thing for the media – also for us, for Rain TV. An independent TV channel in Russia that wants to be successful and does not want to forget what is the most important thing in life. That is very difficult, but at the same time, it is also very exciting and I would like to tell you a short story. Frau Koch already mentioned it very briefly. She basically preempted what I wanted to say and I conducted a few interviews already today and I talked about it. At the end of the day it is the story as to how we survived the past. I don’t want to waste your time and I could talk about that for hours, but everything is very moving for me and I am sure that you wouldn’t be bored after all.

Three years ago when everything started and when everything happened, when Cable TV operators shut us off, I had to tell our audience in few words: “Sorry, we can no longer continue.” I mean that is something you thought of have become successful and popular and people recognize you no matter the way you go and you know what this reputation means and all of a sudden, everything is taken away overnight: you don’t have access to the cable network anymore, advertising companies leave you, you lose your audience, you lose your funds. I mean we invested an enormous amount of money in our TV channel and we didn’t have any private money anymore and I am talking about 2014 and that was also a year of transition. We had become so popular that we in our business plan for 2014 were very hopeful. We wanted to generate profits. We wanted to sell our shares even, we wanted to still of course remain independent. We did not want to get third party funding. So far, it was very important to be able to fund and finance ourselves. And all of a sudden, everything was gone. All of a sudden, we did not know where to get funds from in order to broadcast and then you have audits, permanent audits like in a textbook, so we had fireprotection audits, tax auditors that came to us and audited our company.

Then the law was passed that said that advertising is no longer allowed on paid channels. And at the end of the day, we had lost our advertising companies already. This law was eventually not passed. It was taken back, but that would have been a further step to destroy independent media, but thanks to the audience, thanks to our viewers that supported us that lend us a hand, because they eventually then agree to subscriptions. I mean we started to develop this subscription model from early on, but it was actually a strategy for the future in the beginning.
We tried to check what independent media do worldwide, how they work and we thought that this is going to be our future someday, but when we were cut off, we within one month got about 5,000 subscribers. It was not expensive, but all of a sudden, we got money and we had a chance to reorganize our activites. We organized and reorganized our activities. Our budget was considerable, it was actually quite considerable for an independent channel. Of course, it was much smaller than Russia Today’s budget; it is not comparable with NTV of course. In their good times, of course, they had more staff, so we were always quite modest, but we had 300 staff members and that is something, I think.

At that time we did not even think about somebody shutting us off and kicking us off the market, but we always try to find out how we can continue to work. So on the one hand we needed money – we eventually found subscribers. On the other hand, we had to shrink and I can remember a very dramatic moment. The first moment was, when I gathered all my employees around me and I told them. Sorry, we don’t have the opportunity to continue business as usual. Well, we have to reorganize our business and we all have to accept salary decreases. We reduced our salaries by 30 percent and when you think about our low salaries – I mean that was of course a huge compromise. Yet, people accepted it.

Then a month later I had to gather everybody again and my colleagues of course helped me a lot. Top managers came to me and said: “Listen, we have to make a decision now. We have to really release people.” That was terrible. These were people who accepted or had accepted all decreases or reductions. Yet, you have to tell them: “Sorry, we can no longer employ you”. We didn’t have any drivers, we didn’t have any commercial people, we didn’t have anybody that we could say goodbye to without losing our content-related work. All these reductions and cuts had an impact on human beings. We had to close programs, we couldn’t plan for our future anymore, so we basically cut everything that was not a mast for our survival – in other words we had to release research journalism’s reporters. Of course, if you want to be a news channel, you need reporters, but it was also about lifestyle music, cultures, sports, things like that. We unfortunately had to cut those different subjects.

I know that every farewell is difficult. I mean every farewell meant tears. Nobody got any compensation. Nobody demanded any compensation, because people knew our situation. We also helped them find a new job, because unemployment is always terrible. So everything was very dramatic at that time. After all these cuts and not everything happened on one day, we noticed that we would need more time to reorganize our business, to reorganize our business model focused on subscribers. This is a totally new business model and you have to know what it means. If you work in  the traditional media – and I mean you know what I am talking about – you do ratings, you try to get advertising companies, you try to get new readers essentially.
And all of a sudden, you buy, actually you sell a subscription to a concrete person for concrete money and in Russia people did not understand why they would have to pay for television. Television used to be free of charge.

Ok, we had to pay for television indirectly through taxes, but the normal viewer did not know that. So everything had to be rearranged. We also had to reorganize everything and my colleagues, and I am very grateful to them, they approached me and said: “Hey listen, if we get support by subscribers, by our viewers, if they ask us how much money do you need, let us donate!” And then the marathon that we started, all our friends, colleagues, acquaintances from other media channels, they all joined us, so it was like a marathon that we organized. It was kind of fun, we also organized concerts, auctions. We hat 1,5 million dollars within one month. This was a crowdfunding project. It was totally unusual for Russia, it was totally new for our country and these were all ordinary people. These were now secrets or secret sources, no, these were ordinary people and they donated money from 10 to 1.000 rubels. So ordinary people showed us how important this is and were also part of the crowdfunding project.

And we got energy from it, because in the end we understood how valuable it is what we do. So our viewers helped us. We reorganized our work and with this the new model, we started to work with the subscription model, so that was four months later, we embarked upon this path, we understood that this is our new path, this is our way, it is exciting, we are going to learn and study this and here is new information from somebody we have not expected – our landlord. We were a very popular tenant, we moved into the building first and we attracted businesses and stores, but the landlord said unfortunately we cannot prolong your lease and that was something I had not expected. That was maybe the most important thing or the most difficult thing to accept. That was my home. I lived there for five years and I invested a lot of money, passion and love and the TV channel is not an office where you just take your laptop and move out. We had 2,000 square meters in this building. We had direct and live TV. We also worked on our technology equipment; we had many companies that supported us to install hardware etc. So this was a big, very complex thing, it was a whole organism and all of a sudden we were told we have to stop and move out.

So I started to look for a new building, because I understood that I could not stay there. In October, the landlord tried to help us, they came up with all kinds of explanations in terms of why pressure has been exerted, but every new potential landlord rejected us. There was an active information in honors campaign which discredited us and it was very unpleasant what was happening. Meeting owners that knew us, respected us, that liked us, were just afraid. They were afraid of accepting that risk. You take Doshd as a tenant and then you might end up in permanent audits. I mean it was kind of a miracle to find a building and we moved to a very small building, because otherwise would have had to stay on the streets, so we moved, we furnished our new office, we had technical equipment in different depose and we then started reporting and broadcasting and then the new landlord approaches us and said: “Sorry, ten more days then you have to move out.”

This was really not the first blow and we were absolutely willing to take this over as well, but we just had no space, we just had 10 days to leave the building and then my colleagues as well. This was our apartment and this was wakening, so this was the apartment where our TV station has started. This was our first office. This is where we worked on the concept and we had no more office rooms back then. And then my colleagues said well let’s just try it there and we then opened up a studio in my apartment and of course a part of the staff worked from home in their own home offices and some staid with “Red October” and then there was also a storage room for our service that we rented. So whoever has knowledge of production and digital TV: All of these are live programs, all of these are done through software and all of the data needs to be locked as well, so everybody understands how complicated this is. And we did all of this in one apartment and as all my colleagues we agree. This was our greatest time.

We worked in my apartment; everybody was coming to see us – very well-known politicians and business people. We were just broadcasting our shows from there. We had everybody working there, editing from the rooms. In the bathroom we did the make-up, in the bedroom we were taking phone calls and working on specific tasks. All of this was very complicated, but it was a great time and we were still in the look up for new rooms, but then there was this next phase that started. When strange people were walking around the house and they were trying to collect signatures and they sad Doshd is a new sense and maybe this is also a new sense to you, but the neighbors were great, but they actually did not really know that we were actually broadcasting our new shows and programs from there and then they found out about this collection of signatures and they then just wrote: “Well, we can support Doshd, if they are here in our house. Let’s bring them some food.”

So it was a complicated, but a very interesting time and then we found some space and the owner said we do understand your situation, but we also feel a certain social responsibility and we want to give you this space. And then things continued and that was still very exciting, because our storage rooms also had to be evacuated and that within ten days. So we all had to rebuild new facilities and we did not have 2,000 square meters anymore, but only one 1,000 square meters and we had to rebuild our studio and put up our house servers and we had to put new powerlines and cables for the rooms where this did not exist yet. And I walked through the rooms and I saw that everything was just empty and then I asked my colleagues: “Is this realistic? Can we do this within 10 days?” And then they just askes me: “Well, do we have a choice?” And then I said: “No, we have no choice!” And then I said: “Well. It has to be possible.”

We did it in ten days and all of this is documented, how we were walking, how everything was just empty and then ten days later, we went on air and everything was still covered in dust. We just had a break of two hours, so we could switch something on the sofa, but apart from that we were on air uninterrupted. Of course, sometimes we had technical difficulties. We had sound issues, because it was such an open room and we had no possibilities to get some sound proving in there. On the other hand, the open space was very important for us. We had cameras that were old and a bit outdated – we do upgrade them every now and then. So this means that we have really gone through exciting times and with this new subscription model we can really look into the future.

Today, a very good question was asked to me. Just imagine everything changes. The political situation changes, you have access to all cable networks and you can become popular and big again. What will you do? This is a very tricky question for me. I actually do not want to take this decision because on the one hand I understand that the advertising model is outdated, it is from the past century and of course, we will not carry on like this. Our advertising partners will still need advertising space, but this is an unstable model. It is influenced by politics, business, by pressure and the printing industry is also changing, because the technology has become obsolete and with the new technological developments there is always something new coming in. But the advertising budgets are always limited. This is why I am certain that the subscription model is the best, the most important, the fairest; the most independent model for media, because you are working for very specific viewers. If this works well and you do a good job, this very concrete, very specific viewer will buy the subscription and if not, they will walk away.

Is this complicated? Yes, it is. For two years now, we have been able to survive with subscriptions and we generate our income from subscriptions, 65 % from advertising and 20 % from our sells abroad. This is great. It is an independent social political medium that can exist and has been existed for two years. It is complicated, it is difficult, but it is great. We have a limited budget and we have a limited number of programs, but we have to give some content to the viewers that pay for it. New programs, new presenters, we need new technical upgrades, we need to remain really outstanding. But of course there is a big challenge faced by all offline media. The internet came about and everybody just ran there and now we are working with different channels, we are represented on the cable networks, we are broadcasting on the web, on Facebook, in social media. This is a different language we have to try and speak the language for our users and present the content differently.

And for that again we need people. Now YouTube is coming up and few years ago we did not see that as competition, because we thought that only young people are interested in YouTube and now these users have grown up and we have more people who are interested in YouTube now and our viewers are going there as well and we try and have to compete with this as well. So this is a major challenge for us and this is the challenge we are confronted with.

In order to wrap this up: Why did I tell you this story? The journalists and the entire team showed in all these situations that they have a conscience, courage and they have dignity and we also became aware of the fact that these are no empty words to remain true to your principles and true to the viewers and to stay true to what matters and you know what matters, you know what is essential in your work. But this is the most intriguing and most interesting at the same time. These were very difficult days, but these were very wonderful times at the same time. I believe we have to share this with our viewers every day. And every day we need to work towards making our viewers feel this incenses as well, as many as possible – not only in Russia, but all over the world. All these ethical principles should return, so that there is a conscience everywhere and then everything would be different. Politicians would change their behavior. When you find people with that conscience and how you can do this, so they can become popular. This is again another matter.

In Russia, people often say we need a strong person, we have a complex country and we need somebody strong for this. But I do not believe that this is what we need. We need a leader with a conscience and with human dignity.

Thank you very much!