Russia’s Channel 5 set for relaunch

National Media Group will revamp the 72-year-old web

LONDON — Russia’s financially troubled St. Petersburg Channel 5, a 72-year-old web that garnered huge ratings in the late 1980s, is being relaunched March 15 after an extensive makeover.

The channel, based in St. Petersburg, will drop the name of the city from its title to give it wider appeal across Russia and bow a raft of new shows.

These shows will include daily cultural and current affairs show, “Freedom of Thought,” co-presented by Zhenia Sobchak, who hosts a popular “Big Brother”-style reality show on Russia’s TNT channel.

Sobchak is the glamorous daughter of the late Anatoly Sobchak, the Soviet-era mayor of Leningrad, as St. Petersburg was known then.

The relaunch was unveiled by National Media Group Television at a Moscow press conference on March 3.

NMG also owns Ren-TV, the last national TV channel that airs views critical of the Kremlin.

Channel 5, which has a national audience share of just over 2%, hit the headlines late last year when some 1,300 station employees penned an open letter to President Dmitry Medvedev, who hails from St. Petersburg, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, appealing for help over feared job losses.

There was more media attention when it emerged that Alexander Rodnyansky, a film producer who stepped down as prexy of Moscow-based TV network CTC Media in August, was advising NMG.

CTC Media took Rodnyansky to court claiming he was in breach of an anti-competition agreement. The case was settled out of court with Rodnyansky walking away with nearly $26 million in cash and multimillion-dollar share options.

Rodnyansky, who is now chairman of NMG’s supervisory board, was at the March 3 event with general director Vladimir Khanumyan, former chief financial officer of CTC Media.

Neither would go into details about Channel 5’s financial position, how much had been spent on the relaunch, or what the station’s budget would be, but Rodnyansky brushed off concerns over the web’s viability.

“We do have real problems before us and better performance is the proper answer,” Rodnyansky says.