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RTL buys 30% of Ren-TV

B'caster scores stake in Russia's net

MOSCOW — The RTL Group, Europe’s biggest commercial broadcaster, is buying a 30% stake in Russian channel Ren-TV held by its founders, mother and son Irena and Dmitry Lesnevsky.

The deal is expected to be closed before the end of the year. No figures were announced. However, Russia’s United Energy Systems intends to sell its 70% stake to a subsid of private national steel group Severstal for $100 million.

Severstal is perceived as a Kremlin ally, creating speculation that the tone of news coverage at Ren-TV might change in the run-up to elections skedded for 2007 and ’08.

The Lesnevskys want to continue to be involved in management at Ren-TV, the most politically neutral channel in Russia.

A spokesman for Luxemburg-based RTL said no changes were planned. But Moscow sources speculate that the broadcaster might move away from news in favor of more entertainment fare.

UES acquired its stake in 2000 for $30 million, but has recently been shedding noncore assets.

Ren-TV reaches 97 million viewers and recorded a recent 4.9% audience share in a market where ad spend continues to grow briskly.

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