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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

More Channels Set to Flood Russia's Airwaves

Moscow is on the verge of a revolution in telecommunications which organizers say will soon enable the city to receive more than 10 television stations free of charge.

In theory, this is already possible, although most of the city's seven UHF channels have such poor transmission that they are almost impossible to receive.

But less than six months after the presidential elections demonstrated the enormous political power of Russian television, the industry is undergoing an expansion which, if successful, will increase potential audiences tenfold.

The overhaul of transmission in the city will be the latest step in what experts say is the steady growth in the influence of television.

"It's been happening gradually in the last four years," said Eric Johnson, grants administrator of Internews, a nonprofit organization that assists independent broadcasters in the former Soviet Union. "There are more affluent people willing to pay for products they see advertised, and each political group now wants its own media."

This week, Channel 31, Channel 27 (CTC), Channel 49 (Ren TV), and the youth channel, Kosmos 10, will start their most comprehensive project so far for radically improving transmission in the city.

While all four stations insist their interest in increasing audiences is purely commercial, RenTV will receive heavy backing from Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, while Sergei Lisovsky, head of the Premier SV advertising agency and one of the leaders of Yeltsin's election campaign, owns about 25 percent of the Kosmos TV youth channel.

"Any station can have political potential," said Kosmos 10's director, Igor Yelizarov. "It just depends whose hands it's in. We shared Yeltsin's ideas, and so we came to him with a specific project. If the situation were to arise again, we'd do the same thing."

As with Russia's national television stations, the quest for political power is unlikely to be far from the forefront.

Igor Malashenko, president of the NTV Independent Television company, was media consultant to President Boris Yeltsin's election team, while the company's principal backer, MOST-Bank chief Vladimir Gusinsky, is widely rumored to have contributed heavily to Yeltsin's campaign.

Sergei Blagovolin, head of Russian Public Television, or ORT, who was appointed general director by presidential decree, has publicly acknowledged that he was put in place specifically to promote Yeltsin's presidential campaign.

Russian Television, or RTR, although 100 percent state-owned is increasingly seen as the most independent of Russia's national television stations.

"TV is considered first and foremost as a tool for political influence," said Yasen Zasursky, dean of journalism at Moscow State University. "I think the whole development might be influenced by the interest of the Moscow City Government in political participation. "

At present, Ren TV is the only station with which Luzhkov is publicly involved. Kosmos 10, however has indirect links to both of Russia's largest media magnates: Lisovsky's Premier SV, with its 25 percent stake in Kosmos 10, has a monopoly on advertising at ORT; while, according to Zasursky, Mikhail Yelizarov, a former deputy communications minister and father of Kosmos 10 director Igor Yelizarov, now works for Gusinsky's Most group, which backs NTV.

Most of the four stations show no more than a few hours of broadcasting per day, with cheap programming and little advertising. But with transmission costs averaging at about $100 per minute, their activities have centered around occupying airwaves that could otherwise have been taken by competing companies.

At present, Channel 31 is the most far-ranging of Moscow's UHF broadcasters, with coverage extending 80 kilometers from Ostankino. It broadcasts from 12 to 14 hours daily, focusing on serials and feature films.

But plans to fix transmission are still by no means concrete and the company still does not know who is to pay for the overhaul.

"There's a struggle going on," said Channel 31 press spokesman Albert Ershtrem. "There are several investors who want to do it."

At channels CTC and Ren TV, the future is much clearer since both already have financial backers and clear plans for the future as part of national networks.

With heavy backing by the city government's Bank Moskva, Ren TV hopes to increase broadcasting from four to seven hours daily, starting Jan. 1, while from Dec. 1, CTC will be on the air eight hours on weekdays and 10 hours on Saturdays and Sundays.

CTC has a company policy to avoid any news programming, insisting that news reporting makes political independence impossible.

And while all four stations are closely associated with the capital, all of them broadcast beyond the city's borders. Kosmos 10 sends video cassettes for retransmission in 40 cities across the country, while CTC and Ren TV will broadcast by satellite to regional stations.