Mipcom 2011: Focus on Russia

TV producers in Russia want to shake up the way shows are being made: They’re looking to up the quality and create programming that can sell to Russian nets as well as to foreign buyers.

Story First, a production hub for top entertainment channel CTC, aims streamline scripted and unscripted production and add a creative team of seven to the existing staff of 70.

Story First’s topper, Vasily Balashov, was hired from Disney by Vyacheslav Murugov, chief content officer of CTC Media and head of CTC Network. SFP’s mandate is to improve quality and increase the number of shows it pitches and makes for other channels.

Balashov, who got into television production after graduating from Moscow’s VGIK (All State Cinema Institute) film school, is bringing a fresh, more Western approach to the business of making drama, sitcoms, sketches and soaps for the Russian smallscreen.

“It is essential that we shall be providing full local development control throughout all stages of the creative process,” Balashov says.

The company will not only make shows for CTC Media — which runs Russia’s top entertainment channel CTC along with daytime femme-focused Domashnyi and other channels in Russia and Kazakhstan — but also will be more proactive in pitching for work with others among Russia’s big national broadcasters (commercial stations NTV, TNT and Ren-TV and federal pubcasters Channel One and Rossiya).

“The key aim is to increase the amount of content we produce for CTC and improve the quality of the content as much as we can,” Balashov says. “We will also do our best to increase what we pitch to other channels and our strategic goal is to expand our production possibilities and start to produce content for third parties.”

That means targeting European television companies, pitching original Russian formats and locally produced drama for audiences whose concept of Russia — depending in which part of the continent they live — may be stuck at the romantic historical point of “Dr. Zhivago” or, worse, the negative experiences of the Cold War.

It’s a tall order but one that chief content officer Murugov is ready to take on.

“Last year we sold $38 million worth of programs to Ukrainian stations; CTC is seen as a regional major in this part of the world; we feel we are well set to expand further into Eastern Europe and even Western Europe,” Murugov says.

CTC Media’s track record on turning in investor-pleasing financial figures (half-year figures reported in early August saw profits up 40% from $75 million to $105 million compared with the same period in 2010) means it has the financial muscle to see its vision through, using Story First Production as a turnkey profit center.

Other major players in Russian production are also not allowing the grass to grow under their feet.

Maria Mamedova, VP and general director of Sony Pictures Television Prods. Russia, says Russian made productions are getting better and better.

“Series have been very strong for the past five years now and audiences here would like to see more Russian faces; hear Russian names. They are more attached to Russian characters,” Mamedova says.

Sony TV Russia has produced or co-produced some of CTC’s most highly rated and long running shows, such as “Happy Together” (the local version of U.S. series “Married With Children”) and “Voronini,” the Russian take on “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Locally created shows are beginning to sell internationally: “Creme,” a Sony TV Russia and TNT co-prod for Rossiya, was recently sold for adaptation to Turkey, another market with a virile television drama sector.

Mamedova believes that in the face of increasing competition from the plethora of platforms on which people can receive and view content, Russian production will shift from quantity to quality.

“We’ll see fewer episodes and higher quality. People don’t want to watch long series, but do want big, glossy productions,” Mamedova says.

One thing that won’t change is the inexorable demand for fresh concepts.

“At Mipcom, we shall be looking for fresh ideas, interesting formats both scripted and non-scripted and of course shall be repping out catalog of shows and formats too,” Mamedova says.

MIPCOM 2011: FOCUS ON RUSSIA
Russia’s One at the top | Producers put Story First in bid to nab auds, sales | TV news under the Russian spotlight

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