ETV+, the Estonian National Broadcast’s TV-channel targeting Estonia’s Russian minority, was launched in 2015 after the occupation and annexation of Crimea as it became evident that letting Estonia’s Russian minority live solely in the Russian media space would pose a security risk.
However, the anticipated growth of ETV+ did not materialise since it was almost impossible to compete with the Russian TV-channels. The fact that the local TV-providers “hid” ETV+ somewhere back in their channel list did not make the situation any better. While the Crimean scenario may not have come true in Estonia, the local Russian minority did not watch ETV+ either.
Now with the coronavirus, the situation may be changing very quickly. According to the Kantar Emor, the Russian minority considers ETV+ much more trustworthy (37 %) than Russian RTR (15 %) or PBK (14 %). ETV+ has gained three times more viewers than it had before the corona crisis.
Of course, the picture is not entirely bright as it should be remembered that overall, the Russian minority still watches more Russian TV channels than ETV+. For instance, in January 2020, the Russian minority watched mostly RTR Planeta (13,5%), the PBK (12,3%) and NTV Mir (9,6%) whereas ETV+ reached only around 1% of viewers.
Still, the triple growth of viewership of ETV+ within a very short period of time is remarkable given that media preferences are very slow to change.
One must ask why ETV+ has gained more viewers. Of course, there cannot be definite answers to that question at the moment but let us speculate a little.
First, the coronavirus is something which cannot be ignored and covered with the fake news. In order to survive, one must follow government instructions. For that, the best TV channel to provide this is ETV+ as the Russian TV channels do not provide specific information regarding Estonia.
The growth of the viewership of ETV+ also nullifies any fears that one may have felt regarding the closure of Sputnik Eesti by the Estonian authorities. Already before, but also after the closure, Russia launched a media campaign accusing Estonia of violating freedom of speech. It is natural to assume that the Russian minority was not pleased with this decision even though it is dubious that Sputnik enjoyed a sizeable popularity among Russian speakers in Estonia. But trust towards ETV+ has increased which means that the Russian minority does not take every news station controlled by the Kremlin seriously.
Thus, coronavirus may have had a surprisingly positive effect on the Russian minority’s media consumption in Estonia. It is definitely too early to tell whether the Russian minority is out of the Russian media space, but at least the first steps towards the Estonian media space have been taken.