Summary:

The owner of LiveJournal says it is planning to double its roster of three content sites, in what it says is a fast-growing Russian web mark…

Annelies van den Belt
photo: ITV

The owner of LiveJournal says it is planning to double its roster of three content sites, in what it says is a fast-growing Russian web market.

Sup, an online media vehicle started by investor Andrew Paulson, operates the Gazeta.ru news site, Championat.ru sport site and Qito car-buying site, as well as its own +SOL ad sales house.

CEO Annelies van den Belt tells paidContent:UK: “We’ve got three more editorial, media projects in the pipeline. They are going to be in popular internet content areas, but not services and not dating.”

Sup bought LiveJournal from Six Apart in December 2007 and van den Belt joined in 2008 after running online at Times Online, ITV (LSE: ITV) and The Telegraph. The company is based in Moscow and San Francisco.

“The market is growing fast,” she says. “This year, ad spend will be just short of a billion dollars; the market grew 30 percent last year.

“When people here hit the ground and start running, they never stop. When I first came here, it was ‘why internet?’, now it’s much more how the internet.”

As a pure-play digital operator with no print legacy, the new sites will be launched quickly, van den Belt says: “Our car site was launched in three months. At Times Online, we launched a car site and it took a year and a half. The only real legacy technology we have is LiveJournal – everything’s moving rapidly.”

She credits the new Russian owner of The Independent and Evening Standard papers, Alexander Lebedev, for investing in British journalism, for example, by launching The Indy’s “i” spin-off. Indeed, few other than Russian billionaires have much money to devote to the industry at present – a sign of the growing importance to international media, as well as domestic.

And van den Belt backs her former stomping ground, News International, for trying to wring paying customers from The Times websites: “In 2001, when launched the Crossword Club, we had the philosophy that we should try this (charging for sections). We had a 30 percent conversion rate because there were people willing to pay for it.”

Online, Russian investment is booming, and increasingly influential in Silicon Valley, characterised by Facebook and Groupon stakeholder Mail.ru Group’s flotation of some of its stock in London last week. Van den Belt says the IPO, and the increasingly bright spotlight shining on Moscow, is good news for the RuNet and for advertisers, because web firms are increasingly having to quantify their audiences using more than just TNS Gallup, as they have conventionally done.

The Mail.ru float has given the group a warchest for even more Russian internet investments – so could Sup be one of them? “Our strategy is to continue to grow, and create new media properties,” the CEO says. “We still haven’t created all the advertising products I want to create. There’s a lot of room to grow.”

Alexander Mamut, who owns half of Sup and mobile firm Euroset, is this week investing £5 million in to UK entertainment retailer HMV (LSE: HMV), taking his stake to three percent.

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