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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

TV Networks Put Bets on Fluff This Fall

Politics are out and entertainment is in this fall on television lineups peppered with reality shows and lighter, fluffier news programs.

The two channels to keep an eye on this season will be NTV and CTC, as they duke it out for third place on the market, television industry sources said.

Television executives said they were shifting from politics to entertainment because viewer interest has changed as politics stabilized under President Vladimir Putin.

"When there is political stability, a viewer doesn't look to television for the meaning of life or whom to vote for but for answers to how to spend their time and achieve personal success," said new CTC head Alexander Rodnyansky, who previously ran top Ukrainian channel 1+1.

NTV's deputy head of news, Savik Shuster, said moving from the all-politics shows of President Boris Yeltsin's turbulent years to newscasts with a greater number of general interest stories was logical. "It reflects the politics of Putin's Russia, where there are no faces, no heroes, and everything is flat and uninteresting in the political arena," he said.

Leonid Parfyonov, who kicked off the trend toward infotainment two years ago with his "Namedni" weekly show on NTV, agreed. "News has to be not only and not as much about politics but about life as a whole," he said. "It has to be exciting and entertaining."

This season, Parfyonov will be joined on his show by the popular, foul-mouthed Internet cartoon character Masyanya.

On Monday, NTV begins airing a new schedule of news programs, switching from 20-minute shows every three hours to brief hourly newscasts and two 20- to 30-minute evening newscasts with a greater emphasis on human interest stories.

Rodnyansky plans to turn CTC into the country's top entertainment channel with about a dozen new shows.

Other channels are following suit in focusing on infotainment.

NTV's sister THT network, now led by former CTC chief Roman Petrenko, has repackaged itself and picked up the popular talk show "Okna" from CTC.

State-owned Rossia television, which recently renamed itself from RTR, has introduced a three-hour bloc of morning programming called "Good Morning, Russia!"

Bucking the trend is TVS, which will air four weekend political shows summing up the past week. TVS, which was launched on channel 6 at the beginning of the summer after a four-month break, also has adopted a new logo that includes a small version of NTV's trademark green ball, reminding viewers about the origins of the TVS's team of journalists and producers.

NTV is currently firmly in third place, while No. 1 channel ORT, which announces its fall lineup later this month, is expected to stay at the top. No. 2 Rossia should also retain its ranking.

A surging advertising market promises to fuel and fan competition. Last year, the television industry saw its biggest year-on-year jump of 78 percent to $480 million, or 37.5 percent of the ad market.

Projections for 2002 are even more optimistic. The ad market is expected to pass the $2 billion mark, with television nearly doubling to $880 million, according to advertising agency giant Video International. National channels are to rake in $750 million, with the rest going to regional channels.

CTC is eager to tap into the big profits. "Our main task is to reach a 10 percent share of the market within two to three years," Rodnyansky said. "We want to occupy the same niche on the television market that glossy magazines have in the press."

To that end, CTC has placed about a dozen new shows on its fall lineup. On Friday, viewers saw the first installment of the weekly reality show "Harem," in which 18 young men compete in Kenya for the hearts of four women. The show's hosts, pop singer Alyona Sviridova and gymnastics champion Alina Kabayeva, are among the new well-known faces that CTC has attracted. Actor and director Fyodor Bondarchuk is inviting contestants of his weekend game show "Kreslo," or "Armchair," to don heartbeat and blood pressure indicators while being grilled in an armchair. Contestants cannot answer questions unless they keep their cool -- and the show will make every attempt to rile them up.

"Okna" will be replaced by another talk show, dealing with family scandals.

CTC will continue to show Hollywood films at 9 p.m. and, sticking to its no-politics policy, will only offer show-business news.

ORT and Rossia are expected to remain the main buyers of foreign film libraries, but NTV said it has purchased a significant package of film rights for the first time in three years. "We have shown [the film market] that NTV exists in Russia," said NTV programming director Alexei Yefimov.

He said NTV also is launching several new entertainment programs including "Faktor Strakha," a reality show modeled after U.S. show "Fear Factor," in which contestants have to perform outrageous stunts to win. NTV secured the rights to air the show in Russia.

"I think everybody will spit with disgust but keep watching as cockroaches scurry across the faces of young girls and then are swallowed," Yefimov said.

Rossia on Saturday launched its own reality show, "Stan Zvezdoi," or "Become a Star." The five winners in the 20-part show will be made into a pop group and get a shot at stardom. The winners have already been selected from a national contest of more than 8,000 amateur singers, and their identities are being kept under wraps. The entire process -- from the first auditions to their final training as a pop group -- is being filmed and edited into the show.

RTR also for the first time launched a game show with a cash prize called "Stavka," or "Bet."

All television channels are betting, however, that the big money this season is to be made in Russian crime series. The major channels have lined up as many as two homegrown series a night in their prime-time programming.

"Russian series remain key to the fall schedule," said Olga Oslon, NTV's head of research. "This is what the channels attract audiences with, and this is where the biggest ratings are achieved." NTV plans several real-life crime shows.

As for its news coverage, the new hourly newscasts will be two to seven minutes long and be broadcast live across Russia from two studios in Moscow.

One of the political shows that NTV plans to keep -- and expand on -- is Shuster's "Svoboda Slova," or "Freedom of Speech," in which he interviews prominent personalities. The station has rebuilt its main studio and installed new equipment to make room for a focus-group audience of 150 people, compared to 25 before. "I hope that our politicians are not going to be scared to be shown as they really are and will come to this program during the election campaign," Shuster said.