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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Where Would Billionaires Be but for Media?

Forbes magazine has given Russian journalists something else to be proud of this year as they celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Russian press. The majority of Russians included in Forbes' list of the world's richest people are media moguls.

Judge for yourself. Mikhail Khodorkovsky owns the Tomsk-based TV2 television station, the Tomsky Vestnik newspaper and Sibir radio station. Roman Abramovich is a shareholder in Channel One and TVS. Mikhail Fridman has a stake in CTC. Vladimir Potanin's Prof-Media holding has a stake in Independent Media and controls the newspapers Izvestia, Komsomolskaya Pravda, Sovietsky Sport and Express-Gazeta as well as Avtoradio, Novosti Online, etc. Vladimir Yevtushenkov is part owner of the TV Center television station and runs the SMM holding, which controls the newspapers Literaturnaya Gazeta, Rossia and St. Petersburg-based Smena as well as the Maxima advertising agency, the Nasha Pressa distribution company, the Govorit Moskva radio station, etc. Oleg Deripaska has a stake in TVS and the Rospechat distribution company. Vagit Alekperov owns 48 percent of Izvestia.

As the Forbes list makes clear, the most profitable media companies in Russia are located outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg. The handful of Siberian media outlets belonging to Yukos not only put Khodorkovsky atop the list of Russia's richest men, it also allowed five more Yukos executives to make the Forbes list. It only makes sense that Yukos is currently in negotiations to acquire additional television stations beyond the Urals.

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The names dropped from this year's Forbes list tell an equally compelling story. Just think of Rem Vyakhirev, who lost control of Gazprom's enormous media holdings. Boris Berezovsky also fell from the rankings this year, perhaps in part because in recent years he has lost control of ORT, TV6 and Noviye Izvestia. Viewers of NTV's popular "Plant Life" program, however, got to take a peek recently at Berezovsky's luxurious estate in Britain. This just goes to show that two newspapers -- Nezavisimaya Gazeta and Kommersant -- are enough to ensure their owner a comfortable existence.

What does the Forbes ranking foretell for Russia? If the list is interpreted properly, I think it predicts fundamental changes in the Russian media market and the Russian consciousness. Most importantly, Russia's national pride will get a shot in the arm. It hasn't been easy to see our country reduced to a supplier of raw materials for the world economy. Now we can take heart in the fact that Russia's richest men are media moguls: People involved in creating wealth and adding value.

It should be very clear by now that Russia's mass media are extremely profitable. The only thing obscuring this fact up to now has been our constant complaining about so-called attacks on freedom of the press, about poor economic conditions and the bellyaching about the lack of qualified specialists.

An investment boom is just around the corner. Today's media moguls aren't going to be content with what they've already acquired. Two or three more billionaires will take the plunge into media ownership as well. Our up-and-coming multimillionaires won't want to get left out, either, once they realize the media business is the key to raising their profile. No doubt, serious foreign investors like BP are rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of investing in the Russian media.

How workers in the oil and metals industries will envy journalists then. So stay tuned!



Alexei Pankin is the editor of Sreda, a magazine for media professionals (www.sreda-mag.ru)