TV Tower Fire Sparks Net Use in Russia

When a broadcast tower fire threw several Moscow TV stations off the air this week, many would-be TV viewers turned to the Internet. In some cases, traffic to news sites doubled from usual levels.

The sites reported few performance problems as a result, though one, Gazeta.ru, had to add a second server to handle the traffic, said Editor in Chief Vladislav Borodulin. Last Monday, 85,000 users visited the Gazeta.ru site. This was more than double the typical 40,000 daily average.

But Borodulin said he wasn't sure that the increase was because people couldn't watch television or simply because they were hungry for news. Site visits had also spiked during the Kursk submarine crisis the previous week.

Turning to the Web first for information about major news events is becoming more common in Russia, according to Tom Adshead, an analyst at Troika Dialog, a Moscow-based bank. "I think there's a sense that the Internet news providers give more immediate coverage," he said.

Either way, said Borodulin, spikes increase the total number of regular visitors. "Each such crisis adds new permanent readers," he said. "There's a spike for a day or two, and then the audience stabilizes again but on a higher level - usually around 10 percent higher. It shows readers that the Internet is a reliable and high-quality method of communication."

According to Russian media reports, state-owned ORT and RTR, as well as independent TV channel NTV, all went off the air Monday night in the Moscow area. They started to return Wednesday night.

NTV's Web site saw a threefold increase in traffic the day the network went off the air. Visits increased from a typical 10,000 to a high of 30,000 during the crisis.

But NTV webmaster Olga Melnikova said she wasn't sure how much of the increase to attribute to the outage. "We have a new site and a new design, and people could be coming because it's been advertised on TV," she said.

One-third to one-half of Russia's estimated 2 million regular Internet users, live in Moscow, said Adshead.

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