Erkin Alymbekov: It’s very difficult to say which national group is the core of the Russian-speaking audience of Kyrgyzstan’s online media today

27 March 2023

What is happening with online media in Kyrgyzstan?

In order to answer this question, the EMSC editorial staff spoke with Erkin Alymbekov,
editor-in-chief of Sputnik Kyrgyzstan.

What online media do the Russian-speaking audience of Kyrgyzstan prefer today?

It is difficult to say for sure which online media the Russian-speaking audience prefers, but
Bishkek and Chui oblast most often choose Facebook* and Twitter* media spaces. This is,
as a rule, the Russian-speaking audience. And not Russians, but Russian speakers,
including representatives of the titular nation.

Russian is spoken less frequently in the regions than in the capital. Here the audience
prefers Instagram*. Unfortunately, the pages in the Kyrgyz language, parasitizing on media
news, are often more popular in this social network than the pages of the media themselves.
Therefore, people in the regions often call the most popular media not news agencies, but
rather community accounts in social networks.

What national groups make up the core of the Russian-speaking audience of the republic?

As I mentioned earlier, the Russian-speaking audience includes not only people of Slavic
appearance. There are many Kyrgyz in Bishkek and the Chui region who speak and think in
Russian. And it is quite difficult to talk about which national group makes up the core of the
Russian-speaking audience without special research. Roughly speaking, it is quite difficult to
judge which group is bigger – Russians who speak Russian, or Kyrgyz who speak Russian.
In addition, there are ethnic minorities who speak Russian: Uighurs, Koreans, Dungans,
Uzbeks, and so on. This is a very diverse audience.

What are the main trends in media consumption of the Russian-speaking audience in
Kyrgyzstan now?

The main trends in media consumption of the Russian-speaking audience are no different
from the rest of the world. It is clear that now video content is becoming more and more
popular. YouTube and TikTok prove it. And if the first platform took about 15 years to get a
billion users to register, then TikTok could boast of this amount in just a year, and its growth
trends can only be envied. Moreover, clip thinking is becoming more and more popular, and
the timing for capturing interest is getting shorter. The rapid consumption of content by the
audience is the key to development in the market. If for about ten years there was already a
dogma hanging in the air that a person gets tired after 30 seconds, for example, watching a
synchro without interruptions, now the finger “swipes” up a second or two later if the video
does not instantly attract attention. Because the market is overfilled. The choice of content is
huge, so the consumer is selective, and the media, if they want to remain popular and not
lose their influence, must adapt to the new format and new demands of the audience.

How popular is online media in Kyrgyzstan with older audiences?

The older generation is increasingly moving to reading news from a smartphone. So the
audience has “grown” in terms of age. I cannot say about the majority, and it is better to
leave the exact numbers for discussion by sociologists. But quite a few members of the older
generation have long made it their habit to watch the news on TV, although almost everyone
has smartphones, and many have got quite familiar with Internet content. I think that in
another five years, 50% of the country’s population may well have televisions only for
watching TV shows, movies, YouTube and other Internet content.

How successfully do the traditional mass media of Kyrgyzstan adapt to the digital realities of
the modern media market?

In general, I can’t talk about the special success of our market yet – they are slowly
adapting, slowly coming to the conclusion that maintaining such sites as Telegram or TikTok
should not rely on the efforts of one person. Greater emphasis should be placed on such
platforms both in terms of development and in terms of human resources. Because, for
example, ten times more users can read news on Telegram than traditionally through online
media and the website, as it was a few years ago. I think that the problem of transformation
of traditional media is observed not only in Kyrgyzstan, but throughout the world. This proves
the popularity of bloggers: when one person can become more influential than a whole
company with hundreds of employees.

And what genres and formats of traditional media in Kyrgyzstan have been most
successfully integrated into social networks and “took root” on other digital media platforms?

It seems to me that television has all the resources to successfully “migrate” to popular
platforms like TikTok. Only the old school (cameramen, editors, and journalists themselves)
are often so ossified in terms of the traditional “school” that they either do not want to, or can
no longer adapt to new realities. Moreover, the trends are often dictated by the young
audience. This applies to frame rate, music trends, challenges, and more. Using all these
tools, but implementing your idea, it is quite possible to be on the “wave”. Or, as it is now
customary to say among the young stratum, to be on the same “vibe” with them. Traditional
media will have to play by the new rules of the media market, otherwise they simply won’t

In what direction, in your opinion, will online media develop in the coming years?

Now the most popular social networks are starting to imitate TikTok. On YouTube, these are
shorts (approx. short videos), on Instagram * – reels (approx. short videos). TikTok has made
a splash with its entry into the media platform market. As I said at the very beginning, more
and more often the content that interests us in our smartphone is video. It seems to me that
the bet will be made on video and audio content. As one of our colleagues said, it often
depends on what you are doing at the moment when you want to turn to your gadget. Most
often, we scroll through the feed while we get to work, and we watch and listen to content
while doing household chores.

Interviewed by: Alisa Ivanets

*- organizations whose activities are prohibited on the territory of the Russian Federation

Photo source: Personal archive of Erkin Alymbekov.