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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Alfa Bank Moves Into Prime Time Crime

In what it described as a step toward creating Russia's first major film production and distribution company, Alfa Bank on Wednesday announced the purchase of the bulk of exiled media mogul Vladimir Gusinsky's library of television shows, including his highly coveted package of Russian crime series.

The deal also raises the stakes in the ratings battle among Russian television channels.

Alfa Bank senior vice president Vagan Abgaryan, chairman of newly created distribution company Gamma Film, said Wednesday that 540 hours of film -- including the top-rated series "The Street of Broken Lamps," "Criminal St. Petersburg" and "National Security Agent" -- and another 196 hours of newly commissioned episodes had been acquired for 50 years from Gusinsky's DomFilm studio and other firms. The rights to some of the shows have already been sold on to leading Russian television channels, he said.

Alfa Bank officials said the deal was "in the tens of millions of dollars," and one source close to the deal said it was worth more than $50 million.

"We bought a good asset in a good sector of the economy," Abgaryan said, adding that his company is considering buying Gusinsky's film production studios themselves in order to create a full-fledged production and distribution company.

"We bought only the series, and in regard to the production companies -- we are thinking."

DomFilm director Vladimir Dostal could not be reached for comment.

Domestic crime series have risen to the top of the ratings in recent years, pushing foreign soap operas out of prime time and dictating to a large extent the ad rates a channel charges.

What market players call "Dostal's package" is considered the television industry's most coveted asset. It has traded hands several times over the past few years, from Gusinsky's NTV to Boris Berezovsky's TV6 and then back to Gazprom's NTV when it was run by Boris Jordan.

Alexander Rodnyansky, general director of CTC television, which is partly owned by Alfa Group, said Wednesday that he began negotiating with Gusinsky for the package, which he said accounted for about 40 percent of the TV series market, last October. Abgaryan said the deal was clinched a month later.

By snapping up the package while NTV had it on a short-term basis, Alfa appears to have done a favor for key players in the industry, who perceived Jordan, a Russian-born American, as an outsider. Jordan lost his jobs at NTV and its parent company, Gazprom-Media, earlier this year.

Arkady Tsimbler, NTV's director for film, said the deal was "of no great importance" to his channel. "There's a lot of old movies in that package."