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CTC Media Sees Future in Programming, New Platforms

Russia’s CTC Media, the largest independent player in the country, marks its 25th year with an expansive mind-set, focusing on new platforms, original programming and digital market gains.

No longer satisfied with the broadcaster label despite its strong position in the market, CTC now bills itself as an integrated content company. Though its execs are quick to play up growing biz on four youth-oriented Russian channels, another in Kazakhstan and a sixth in Moldova, plus two international pay channels and three transmedia divisions, the buzz more recently has been the launch of its inhouse “creative production center” in December, aimed at both traditional and new media outlets. CTC Media execs will be attending Mipcom.

CTC’s Domashny channel, for example, is aimed at the active women with kids market and is a free-to-air venture that is “closing in on Russia’s Big 6,” says CEO Yuliana Slashcheva. Programs about cooking, travel and fashion dominate Domashny.

“We want to transform the company from a business that essentially manages channels to a content enterprise active in all video-enabled markets and platforms,” Slashcheva says.

A key to that focus will be native, Russian-language shows, which local audiences now crave. “We see a huge demand for home-grown product in addition to the best of international programming,” Slashcheva adds.

Local programming is going strong. It announced the launch of CTC Love in late 2013, going live with content focused on relationships targeting younger women. It bowed on cable and satellite in April, covering more than 45% of households in St. Petersburg and 37% in Moscow.

December saw the unveiling of in-house shingle Story First Production and in spring CTC followed up with an online retail outlet for women’s fashions and its latest channel in Russia.
Slashcheva says her first year as topper is also about diversifying to tap new revenue streams at CTC.

Although the company reports that business has barely been affected by the U.S. sanctions against Russian holdings over the country’s role in Ukraine, Slashcheva says the media environment is still challenging. Lost ad revenues in Ukraine, a key market for most Russian media companies, won’t help.

“Advertising revenues are decreasing everywhere due to the multitude of options for viewers,” she says. “So having a great, unique creative product is the first step, and expanding beyond our traditional businesses is the second one.”

CTC is also considering its options after Russia recently adopted a law limiting foreign ownership of media companies to 20% that is due to come into force Jan. 1, 2016. Sweden’s Modern Times Group has a 38% stake in CTC.

But with more than 5 million new subscribers to CTC’s online groups and social networks, it’s a heady time. Online video advertising shot up 67% in 2014 and Russia has the largest number of Internet users and the largest potential audience in Europe, with CTC reporting revenues growing faster than the market.

“With episodes of our ‘#Students’ sketch comedy available free of charge, the first-ever Russian television series premiered on social media networks and attracted over 1.3 million views,” says Slashcheva in a statement in July

It’s looking abroad to export as well. In July, CTC launched a joint project with Hulu to exclusively supply Russian TV series in the U.S., including hit hockey drama “Junior League,” dramedy “Ranetki,” mystery thriller “The Day After” and crime drama “Lavrova’s Method.”

The company has come a long way since it was founded as radio business Story First Communications by American entrepreneur Peter Gerwe, morphing into CTC when he left in 2004.

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