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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Universal, StoryFirst In Russian TV Deal

StoryFirst Communications, the parent company of Russia's CTC satellite television network, stands to get the rights to U.S. television shows and films as part of an investment deal signed Monday with Universal Television.

Terry Mackin, StoryFirst's president and chief operating officer, said the deal is part of a bigger investment project that will deliver a total of $50 million to the company.

He said the deal involves not only the Seagram Co. subsidiary Universal, but Alfa Kapital and a consortium of financial investors including Credit Suisse First Boston, Mercury Asset Management and Morgan Stanley Asset Management.

The agreement will allow Universal to be the first U.S. television studio to develop original programming for any Russian television network. StoryFirst has also agreed to license existing Universal Television series, such as "Team Knight Rider," "Players," "Timecop" and "New York Undercover," a Universal statement said.

StoryFirst will also gain access to Universal's film library, including "Beethoven," "Scent of a Woman," "Out of Africa" and "Kindergarten Cop," as part of the deal.

"The reason we are doing this is because there is a lot of potential in Russia, a lot of upside. We want not just to help with programming, we want to be an equity player there as well," said Universal Television spokesman Jim Benson.

StoryFirst's board chairman Peter Gerwe said that under the deal, Universal will receive a small portion of StoryFirst shares. The Wall Street Journal has reported that Universal has kicked in $10 million of the total investment package.

The $50 million package will enable StoryFirst "to continue to expand its assets," Mackin said by telephone from London on Tuesday. He said the new funds will allow the company to add another 100 cities to its list of 174 that already receive the CTC satellite network in addition to allowing it to produce new programs and develop production facilities.

StoryFirst's holdings in Russia and Ukraine already include two television networks, television stations in eight cities as well as eight radio stations, including "Radio Maximum" in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Mackin said.

"Our primary goal is to produce more original programming," he said.

Universal said in its statement that it will assist StoryFirst in the production of local programming, with a talk show being contemplated.

Mackin said the CTC programming would target young adults aged 18 to 34, as well as teenagers and children. He emphasized that CTC's signature programs will be those produced locally.

"Within the next two years, a minimum of 15 percent of our programming will be produced locally," Mackin said.

Universal Television was in other news Tuesday as reports surfaced that Seagram's would sell Universal Studios Inc., which includes the television company, to HSN Inc. for about $4 billion.

The reported purchase of part of Seagram by HSN Inc. will only strengthen the position of StoryFirst as "we have close relationship with [HSN chief] Barry Diller," Gerwe said.

Andrei Skutin, the general director of Moscow's CTC-8 channel, said the CTC channel is becoming widely accessible in Moscow after Mostelekom, the city's cable operator, installed new equipment.

Skutin said a large-scale promotional campaign designed to increase the profile of the company is planned for the next few weeks.

"Our problem is that while at least half the city's viewers are capable of tuning in to us, we are not well known yet," he said.

He also said that a second CTC satellite has begun operation recently, allowing CTC to extend its broadcasting to Siberia and the Far East.

StoryFirst was reportedly in talks earlier this year with CBS, a unit of Westinghouse Electric Corp., about the U.S. network buying an equity stake in the company, but no deal was ever reached.