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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gusinsky, Berezovsky Talk Merger

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Two embattled multimillionaires — Vladimir Gusinsky and Boris Berezovsky — are considering pooling their media resources to create a new NTV television channel that could come complete with the NTV logo and NTV's editorial team.

The two businessmen, once thought to be irreconcilable rivals, agreed Thursday to begin a feasibility study about merging Berezovsky's TV6 with Gusinsky's THT channel, TV6 chairman Igor Shabdurasulov said Friday.

"Experts on both sides have been asked to evaluate the technical possibilities of such a merger," Shabdurasulov said.

The meeting between the two tycoons took place in Spain, where Gusinsky remains under house arrest awaiting extradition to Russia for a trial on fraud charges.

Shabdurasulov said it was too early to discuss the financial details of a merger or put a timetable on the feasibility study.

Click here to read our special report on the Struggle for Media-MOST.

Media-MOST spokesman Dmitry Ostalsky confirmed that the merger is being considered, but declined to provide details.

THT and TV6 each have a reach of about 78 million people.

The Gallup Media ratings agency estimates that 5.6 percent of the national adult television audience tuned into TV6 from mid-January to mid-February, while 4 percent picked THT. By comparison, further-reaching NTV snagged 14.7 percent and ORT 26.6 percent.

The talks Thursday between Gusinsky and Berezovsky were just one of several recent meetings. Gusinsky told NTV staff via a satellite link Tuesday that Berezovsky visited him in a Madrid jail last month during a brief imprisonment ahead of extradition hearings.

"I would not want to elaborate on it [the meeting] now but, in principle, I would say that I think we have an extra resource," Gusinsky said.

A hookup between the two second-tier channels could give Gusinsky's and Berezovsky's once-large media holdings a new lease on life, analysts said.

"Gusinsky must realize his current incapacity to get hold of NTV. A similar situation goes for Berezovsky, who was recently forced to scale down his media operations," said Andrei Ryabov, analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Center.

"But if the two were to join forces, they would be likely to find the necessary resources. In Russia, neither of them has a way to tap [investment] anymore. But help could be sought — and most likely found — in Germany or the U.S."

Gusinsky, who was ousted from debt-swapped NTV at a controversial shareholders meeting last week, reached a deal Wednesday to sell his stake in NTV to a consortium led by CNN founder Ted Turner. Gusinsky says he hopes Turner will be able to bail the channel out and ensure its editorial independence.

Berezovsky, living abroad in self-imposed exile, sold his 49 percent stake in ORT television, the country's largest channel, under unclear circumstances several months ago. Prior to the sale, Berezovsky claimed he was under Kremlin pressure to bow out of ORT.

Berezovsky, meanwhile, upped his stake in TV6 to 75 percent last month.

Anna Kachkayeva, a television analyst with Radio Liberty, said that according to her experts a merger of THT and TV6 would be financially and technically feasible.

But analysts said the likelihood of a full merger was very slim.

While the NTV team may move over to a merged TV6 and THT, it is unclear whether the well-known NTV brand name would follow.

A Press Ministry source said the NTV brand could not appear on another station.

But Boris Jordan, the newly appointed general director of NTV, said the trademark is not directly owned by the company he has been assigned to run. "There are several structural problems," Jordan told a recent news conference.

"Since 1998, NTV's trademark has been held by structures connected to some shareholders [and], as a result, the company [NTV] has to rent its own trademark," he said.

Media-MOST's Ostalsky said the trademark is owned by NTV Holding, an umbrella company for Media-MOST's electronic media.