About the project
How do you find your place in life? How do you find something to do that both comes naturally to you and makes you happy? The answer is that you have to apply the knowledge you’ve gained from university and from life itself correctly. The Success Builder Project features graduates from the Higher School of Economics who have discovered themselves through an interesting business or an unexpected profession. The protagonists share their experiences, and talk about the big shots they’ve schmoozed and how they’ve made the most of the opportunities they were given.
The media industry is one of today's most dynamic. Illegal downloading has succumbed to the laziness of the honest user, who is now able to watch films online for just 30 rubles. The Managing Director of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, Andrei Gromkovskiy, tells Success Builder about the danger and allure of investing in media products, as well as whether there are ways to manipulate people through TV and whether art or business is most important in the world of film.
In what way did your degree in political science lead you to the VGIK Institute and the film industry?
I started programming at a pretty early age and have been using the internet since 1993, so I had quite a bit of experience in IT. This is why I wanted to study computational mathematics and cybernetics. But then I realised that I could only become better in these fields as opposed to learning something new. In the end, conscription was right around the corner, so I had to apply somewhere fast, and it didn’t matter where. HSE and political science were initially an unconscious decision. I remember being surprised and ecstatic when I got a 27 on the entrance exams, while the passing score was only 24. I was so happy when I found out I got in because I knew I’d receive a top-notch core education in the humanities, and as it turned out, an incredibly formative education as a whole.
is how much the percentage of users who watch content on tablets has grown since 2012. Specifically, the percentage rose from just 4% in 2012 to 41% today, including 21% who watch daily.
A lecture I had on ancient history and philosophy made a huge impression on me. Then I had ethics and Buddhist culture, Russian history, statistics, and institutional economics. These disciplines, along with others, develop good taste in a person. I would recommend this type of education to anyone who wants to go into management because the skills you get at HSE allow you to form your own point of view on how human civilization has developed. In addition to an applied profession, this kind of education makes you good at what you do because you’re able to see the big picture. Plus you can formulate concrete strategic trends and relate them to the development of government and humanity as a whole. This is important because as soon as you understand the context in which you live, you understand why you’re doing something.
I oftentimes hear alumni say that HSE first and foremost teaches you soft skills; how do these skills manifest themselves in management?
I have one example. One of my British colleagues came to Moscow this week, and after discussing work, he wanted to see Moscow. We walked around the city, and I told him about Third Rome and the historical paradoxes of Russia. In the end, I had found a very interesting interlocutor who reads the same books as me, and we had something to talk about. I made a new friend who I’ll always be happy to see because we are both on the same level. If I hadn’t gone to HSE, I would be a different person. But because of HSE, I’m what you’d call an ‘interesting person.’ This is why an education here is important as concerns socialisation, communication, and first-hand experience, and in my profession, this knowledge is part of one’s analytical experience and one’s understanding of how a management system should be structured.
A company’s management system differs very little from the government’s; all organisations are structured more or less the same. Learning allows us to make the right decisions within a ‘state.’ After all, having a solid base makes it easier to go into specific fields.
How did you get started in the cyber business?
It was an accident. I tried things out in PR and political technology, and I always worked as a student, which wasn’t easy – fellow HSE students and alumni understand. Honestly, I didn’t enjoy working in PR at that point in my life. I wanted to do something more creative and more interesting as concerns development possibilities. This is how I ended up interning at an organisation whose clients included a media company. When I worked with them, they told me about Amedia, which had only been recently created, and I found out that they had a job opening, and I went in for an interview. In order to get to Alexander Akopov [Amedia’s President], I had to go through six other interviews first. But he hired me, though he did ask that I study at VGIK.
The company was growing rapidly. I initially worked in finance, but was then able to move into business development and develop new investment projects. At 21, I was suddenly the newbie, which was a real challenge. I had little management experience and an intense workload. It was also just scary. But I was lucky and was the boss of a woman who had worked as the Deputy CEO of Mosfilm for 25 years, and she taught me, her boss, how to cope with the elements of the film industry, such as budgeting, working with powerful producers, and a lot of other things. I hadn’t before met such useful guides in life. I would have told my younger self to be more courageous and try twice as hard. I would have also said not to be afraid to ask questions. That’s how you achieve everything you want to achieve.
I read that you lived in the U.S. for some time. While there, did you gain any experience working in the world’s most advanced film industry?
I lived in the U.S. as a child, from age 7 to 11. I wasn’t interested in film at all, but I loved television. This gave me a good knowledge of American culture, and I saw a wonderful amount of various television products. My parents didn’t allow me to watch TV for more than an hour a day, and the joke is that I went on to work in the industry. This is my way of protesting the TV ban [laughs].
Living abroad allows you to see the world more broadly and appreciate what you have. To be honest, I became a big patriot when I returned to Russia. I really love Russia, and though I lived abroad, I don’t want to move anywhere else. I really like it here because I understand all of the hardships that come with living abroad, unlike those who just want to get as far away as possible. It’s hard to become your own person there. It took me, a child, almost two years. In order to find yourself as an adult, you need decades, so the idea of ‘abroad’ is an illusion.
The longer I work in the media industry, the less I consume media products and the more I read
Understanding how money works in the industry, are you constantly talking to investors?
I have experience consulting investors, but I don’t do this all the time. Sooner or later, a lot of rich people start to get an interest in investing in the media, but I advise against this in most cases because the media is one of the most complex businesses out there. Success depends on human relationships, and people aren’t machines. For a person who makes money in a business that produces something mechanical, for example, it’s more difficult to handle a creative business where you have to manage a large number of very difficult people. This is why my advice to anyone who is going to work or invest money in the media business is to think twice and consult with good specialists who work in the industry.
What’s behind the American TV show phenomenon? Why has everyone suddenly started watching them?
I’ll explain the confusion. There are two types of shows that people watch. The first are American shows that primarily the 50,000-100,000 people inside the Garden Ring watch. We live in a small world where we all bump into one another and think that the entire country is doing the same thing. The second category includes Russian TV shows that you have to watch through an app installed on most smart TVs in Russia, and the majority of people with these apps actually watch the Russian shows. I was really surprised by the show Ottepel and realised that it’s easy to switch to this kind of show, even after seeing the Big Bang Theory or Breaking Bad. There is a gap in the patter – that is, there are great shows in Russia, but only a handful. Like Russian cinema as a whole.
A successful TV show is usually short and can be watched during a coffee break, or in an entire day, especially in the winter. Also, a successful show allows you to really delve into the story. Our parents were big readers, and TV shows are similar to that. So TV shows are here to stay, both Western and Russian.
Will a shift from books to shows have an effect on consumers’ intellect at all?
The longer I work in the media industry, the less I consume media products and the more I read. I don’t think that shows are dangerous in this sense. At least viewers oftentimes reread the books that shows are based on.
About the cooperation that takes place between politics and the media – where do they intersect? Is there some sort of black market? Is there anything suspicious here?
No one has ever called me demanding that I lobby for a certain issue or influence viewers maliciously. I think that people who don’t work in the media business hear a lot of stories about it. This includes the legend that there are people in the business who are like puppets on strings. I work in entertainment where we can only influence viewers subconsciously, and even this influence is limited to writers, directors, and producers, who contribute their personal views, not some general idea. I can contribute some common idea as a producer, but it’s not clear how information will impact a specific person.
You’ve worked with the Film Foundation. Based on your experience, how are films financed in Russia?
My colleagues from the company Bazelevs and I used to consult the Film Foundation, and we wanted to apply all of the best foreign practices to the Russian industry so that the financing system would promote creative and information-centered competition, allowing there to be more companies to produce interesting Russian films. This was a great experience because at the government level, it would be very difficult to do a lot of the useful things you can do as an experienced employee of a commercial company. It would be difficult from the standpoint of current legislation and political restrictions.
As an example, the system currently only finances companies whose films make the most money at the box office. But there are a lot of companies and directors who make smaller films that are nonetheless very important culturally. The question is, what do you do with them? A question we’re constantly asking ourselves is, what’s more important – art or business? It’s becoming clear that the international approach is not always right – people who learn from the great masters of cinema ultimately end up becoming so-called commercial directors. In any society, in any film industry with art-house geniuses, there also have to be apprentices and genre masters, people who can create a good comedy. This is also craftsmanship, and you have to learn how to do it. The whole ecosystem as a whole has to be supported.
Given reasonable prices, a simple interface, and easy access, people choose not to view pirated content. Everyone has a certain threshold for laziness
Compared to the West, what makes our industry special, particularly as concerns theater releases?
The problem with our movie industry is the lack of specialists. Without specialists, we are only able to make average films, and we can only get together all of the best experts of Moscow and St. Petersburg once a year to develop a cool $50 million project. But we should be making 10 a year. This is why everyone here tries to make genre-specific films, with war and historical films turning out fairly decent. They also receive government support. Private investments are rare because it’s hard to make your money back. The Russian audience is largely made up of youth, and as soon as someone has a family and children, he or she starts going to the movies only one or two times a year, statistics show. So in the end, Russian movies only have a few good dates to choose from as far as movie releases go, and they all fall over the New Years holidays. People watch movies at home, and it’s difficult for Russian cinema to make money off of this. Plus pirating just adds fuel to the fire.
What do you currently do at Twentieth Century Fox?
Sell digital rights to video platforms. This concerns applications and websites that people use everyday. We sell rights, handle marketing, and try to boost film and TV show sales as much as possible. Consumers pay a small amount of money to watch a film online, creating a new source of income for the film industry. This is a business that is growing rapidly, and I’m deeply interested in it. My role is to expand this business by increasing the number of clients and making it easier for them to gain access to services. My job is very simple, yet interesting – figure out how to get someone to use services to find legal content instead of pirated material. There are 18 million people, if not more, who pay for content in the Russian internet segment, and we see hundreds of thousands of people buying from us. In addition, smart TVs are becoming increasingly popular in Russia, with there being an estimated total of 11 million Smart TVs in Russia this year. Experts also estimate that half are connected to the internet, meaning users can purchase content by simply pushing a button on their remote controls. And the higher this number is, the more we can boost our sales.
is how much one internet user spent on average on games, movies, software, books, and other types of internet content in the first three months of 2015.
Given reasonable prices, a simple interface, and easy access, people choose not to view pirated content. Everyone has a certain threshold for laziness. Now, one’s own time is more valuable than the money they’d save on pirated content. Plus it has become a moral question – am I doing the right thing? Would I teach my kids this? And analysing how a consumer’s worldview changes with age, I’m very pleased with my political, historical, and philosophical awareness, that is, with my education.
What sort of growth prospects do you, a specialist, have in the future? Thinking of your own distribution company?
I sometimes joke that it’s difficult to make forecasts in our current world. Ten years ago, if you would have told me that I’d have the job I do today, I’d have been surprised. I don’t strive to be rich or wildly successful; I’m just not interested in that. I sometimes envy teachers actually. In time, I’d like to give away part of myself and part of my abilities or knowledge to younger people or to the industry I work in. As we get older, it seems like it becomes more and more important to be of service to one’s industry, professional community, government, and society. I hope I have the opportunity to realise my own potential; how, though, I cannot say. I don’t know if I’ll have the opportunity to manage an industrial association or teach or possibly do that all at the same time. Only time will tell.
Does HSE currently play any role in your life, aside from the education you received?
I’m always in contact with HSE through my friends. Some of them teach or continue taking part in the university’s academic work. HSE is a big part of my life. Eventually, if there’s a need, I’d like to return to my alma mater to teach, or possibly to continue my education. It’s important to note that in recent years, HSE has held more open events and worked more with alumni. The university has opened up a lot, and it feels like the school is always nearby.