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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kosmos Falters in For-Pay TV Battles

While NTV Plus has been flooded with new customers since the Ostankino tower fire, Kosmos TV — its main competitor in the for-pay television market — has most of the week been left to offer blank screens and apologies.

Kosmos, a favorite with expats because of its heavier emphasis on foreign-language channels, relies on Ostankino to transmit its signal and was off the air for five days.

It restarted broadcasts Friday of four of its 25 channels and hoped by the evening to get two more channels on the air, said Dominic Reed, country manager for Kosmos TV.

After the blaze at the Ostankino television tower blacked out the city’s television screens Sunday, many Muscovites woke up to the satellite and cable TV services.

NTV Plus said it was deluged with thousands of calls. The day before the fire, the company said it sold 20 subscriptions. The day after the fire, the number jumped to more than 1,000.

Kosmos has missed the run on alternative TV. Despite the blackout, Reed said about 10 new contracts were sold in the past week. But 10 is not 1,000, and NTV Plus has charged ahead of its rival thanks to a different broadcasting system.

NTV Plus uses the direct-to-home, or DHT, system under which the signal goes from the satellite direct to the dish. It is thus independent of Ostankino.

Kosmos TV uses MMDS, known as "wireless cable." The signal arrives from satellites, but the broadcast is transmitted to subscribers via Ostankino. Before the fire, Kosmos TV’s broadcast range extended 50 kilometers from the tower.

But Kosmos TV executives are putting forward their bravest face.

"The market is so large, it is big enough for all of us to grow," Reed said. "I’m perfectly happy that [NTV Plus] have got a good few days. … We are in the same segment of the market, but we are dealing with different kinds of customers."

Yevgeny Yakovich, NTV Plus general director, also said the two companies were targeting different customers. "Kosmos TV was originally oriented toward expats," he said in an interview Tuesday. "We have been targeting Russians right from the start."

Kosmos has more channels in English, German and other foreign languages, while NTV Plus has more Russian-language programming.

Yakovich said that before the Ostankino fire, NTV Plus had about 70,000 subscribers in Moscow and the Moscow region. Reed would not say how many customers Kosmos has.

"This [the fire] was clearly a window of opportunity for NTV Plus to get more customers," said Chris Dziadul, a London-based media analyst.

He said when NTV Plus was launched in 1995, it aimed for a wide viewership, but was now trying to reinvent itself as more up-market.

Kosmos TV, on the other hand, was moving the other way, Dziadul said.

Reed said being off the air for five days was bad in the short term, but that if more people switched to satellite television — even any kind of television — Kosmos stood to gain in the long run.

To set up the equipment of Kosmos TV costs customers about $110, he said, while the minimum price to subscribe to NTV Plus is $184. Monthly prices of standard packages of channels at each are roughly the same, about $18.

Kosmos TV had been making plans to try to keep its customers in case it took longer than expected to get back on the air, Reed said. They included extending the credit period and offering a bigger package.

Before the Ostankino blaze, Kosmos TV already had two new packages in the works. One is the launch in November of digital television offering up to 70 satellite channels. Current customers will get this service for free, Reed said. Kosmos also plans to put Internet access on the market this month.

"These are products that we can use as a tool to try to get people to stay with us," he said.

Even though broadcasting could not resume until Friday, testing on Monday and Tuesday showed that Kosmos equipment did not suffer much damage in the fire, Reed said.

Kosmos TV was created in 1991 as a joint venture. Fifty percent is held by Metromedia International Telcell Inc., and the other fifty percent by VGTRK, the state television holding company.

Kosmos’ other competitor is Comcor-TV, a U.S.-Russian joint venture between city-owned Moscow Telecommunications Corp., or Comcor, and Andersen Group, Inc. And like NTV Plus, Comcor has also stayed on the air — and enjoyed the fire sale.

Comcor operates MFON, a 2,000-kilometer fiber-optic broadband network that covers all of Moscow and part of the surrounding region.

Until recently, only government organizations and some businesses had access to the network. Andersen and Comcor founded Comcor-TV earlier this year with plans to hook MFON up to Moscow homes to deliver premium television and Internet access.

So far, the Comcor-TV network, which started transmissions in March, only covers two neighborhoods and reaches a total of 10,000 subscribers.

But Comcor had long lines of new subscribers in its office this week, said Yury Pripachkin, chairman of Comcor’s board of directors. To set up with Comcor costs about $25, while a standard package is $12 a month, he said.

Staff writer Andrei Zolotov contributed to this report.