Eyeing a New Generation: KARO's Olga Zinyakova brings high standards to Russian cinemas

Cinemas Features

Cinema attendance in Russia soared by ten percent last year, so it makes perfect sense that CineEurope’s 2018 “International Exhibitor of Year” Award is being presented to Olga Zinyakova, president of one of the country’s most innovative and successful theatre chains, KARO Cinemas.

Laura Houlgatte-Abbott, CEO of UNIC (the International Union of Cinemas), noted, “Russia has quickly become one of the key territories for growth in European cinema, and much of that is due to the energy, innovation and investment that KARO has brought to the sector. We look forward to joining Olga Zinyakova and her colleagues in celebrating what is a fitting testament to the ongoing success of the company.”

KARO was the first circuit in Russia to introduce self-service ticketing and food-and-beverage systems, along with online F&B sales. KARO also operates the two largest megaplexes in Russia: the KARO Vegas 22 and the KARO Sky 17 Aviapark. In fact, the Vegas 22 is the largest cinema complex in all of Europe. The circuit currently has 236 screens in 30 locations and plans to open ten new cinemas in the next three to four years.

A 15-year veteran of the cinema business, Zinyakova has been president of KARO since 2017. She began her career in television at Channel One Russia and TNT TV Channel and then served from 2008 to 2013 as CEO of PromoFilm, which oversaw movie advertising and promotion at Channel One Russia and other movie ad campaigns. She joined KARO in 2013 as head of advertising and marketing.

“I came to the film and cinema business from TV and marketing, and luckily was part of the beginning of Russian movies’ rebirth,” Zinyakova recalls. “The industry was rather young, and there was so much space for opportunity and development. Each project, each campaign was absolutely unique and the feedback we got from the audience was so massive. I worked a lot with film production, distribution and promotion, so being part of the exhibition industry was a logical step.”

Zinyakova notes, “I was very lucky to work with the best professionals in the industry from the very beginning of my career. Their vision, uncompromising positions and creativity were so inspiring. They include Mr. Konstantin Ernst, the CEO of Channel One Russia, whose personality is recognized much beyond the media business. He is one of the most talented people and best Russian film producers—working on his team was the best experience one could have. Also, Mr. Roman Petrenko, the ex-CEO of TNT TV channel, who created the first Russian youth TV. And, of course, Mr. Paul Heth, who built the Russian cinema business as we know it today.Our KARO team are also the biggest fans of their jobs and we learn a lot from each other every day.”

With Zinyakova at the helm, KARO pursues a forward-thinking philosophy. “Several years ago we started the concept of cinemas for the new generation, targeted to bring the moviegoing experience in Russia to a new level,” she says. The company’s most upscale offering is its “Black” halls, the equivalent of VIP cinemas. These auditoriums all offer at-your-seat dining service, in which a personal concierge delivers a wide range of food and drinks. KARO currently operates 13 “Black” halls, with plans for ten more. The circuit also has 11 LUXE premium-large-format screens. And its “KARO.art” program presents alternative content on a nationwide scale.

This September, KARO will introduce yet another type of venue—the RealD Ultimate Screen, the first in Russia and the fifth in the world. KARO also recently converted the October Cinema, the biggest auditorium in Russia with 1,500 seats, presenting around 350 events a year. Zinyakova calls October “the first movie center in the country, with a bar that offers a variety of more than 20 kinds of popcorn, the first VR-cinema hall in Russia, fashionable restaurants, a comic-book store and more.”

Another KARO innovation is its “U-Choose” cinema bars. Zinyakova explains, “These are organized in a way that allows our patrons to avoid queues and gives them a lot of time to choose what they want. The U-Choose bars offer a wide range of soft drinks, snacks and popcorn as well as healthy food and special products for kids—more than 100 items in all. Recently we opened the largest U-Choose bar in Moscow, where we introduced a standalone popcorn bar offering more than 20 types of corn and allowing the combination of different mixes. Popcorn, of course, is the most popular item in cinema bars—that is why we develop new offers for the product all the time. Our audience likes to have something new.”

As in so many markets around the world, programming is dominated by Hollywood content. “The share for Russian films depends on the month,” Zinyakova notes. “The year average is usually around 23 percent; the share for Hollywood movies (plus other foreign films) is around 77 percent. Currently, Russia doesn’t produce enough content for the cinemas to have a bigger share.”

But the outlook for the Russian cinema business is rosy. “The Russian market, by any world measure, has a low per-capita penetration of screens,” she observes. “It has great potential for growth.”

Among the biggest challenges the exhibition business in Russia faces, she notes, are “piracy, which influences industry income in a negative way, and the short time period from theatrical to digital release of Russian movies, which keeps audiences from watching new films in cinemas. Also, the government system of control needs to be redeveloped to meet industry needs and expectations.”

Zinyakova is gratified by the recognition she’s receiving from CineEurope. “I extremely appreciate the high assessment of our work by the international cinema community. Our team will continue to do our best to maintain the highest standards and new ideas, and we hope that the global recognition of our efforts will contribute to expanding our ‘new generation cinema’ concept in Russia.”