Foreign players angle for piece of biz

Russia's gov't considers restricting ads during films, skeins

MOSCOW — Will foreigners get their hands on Russian TV? That’s the big unanswered question facing the biz in 2001.

Specifically, the uncertainty around the future of leading independent commercial channel NTV is undoubtedly the most dramatic unresolved political issue, though Channel 1 ORT and TV6, are suffering under uncertainties.

While NTV is believed to be operating at a profit, the jury is out on whether the consortium of potential foreign investors, including Turner Enterprises and Sweden’s Modern Times Group, will take a stake in what looks to many outsiders like a political minefield.

If they do so, it would be a landmark decision that could dramatically change Russia’s broadcasting landscape.

Meanwhile, Euro player the Kirch Group is apparently considering a stake in TV6, which would dilute the share of majority shareholder Boris Berezovsky. The latter shed his major stake in ORT at the beginning of the year to Kremlin-friendly tycoon Roman Abramovich, who duly passed control of it into state hands.

That leaves many wondering whether Russia really needs — and can afford to fund — two effectively public national channels.

There’s been no resolution either of ongoing deficits at pubcaster RTR or ORT (which remains 51% state-owned). Both are taking out new loans — often extended by government-aligned banks, allegedly in return for a political line loyal to the Kremlin — to refinance existing debt.

Finally, Russia’s Parliament is considering legislation that could restrict or limit advertising during film and series broadcasting. That’s why major broadcasters have begun varying their primetime schedules by introducing more gameshows and reality fare.

Competition for the latter categories has heated up of late with the Russian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” being snatched away from NTV by ORT.

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