«Jewish Observer»
ISRAEL
2/21
January 2002
5762 Shvat

"RUSSIAN" TV BAZAAR
ALEX PRYLUTSKYY
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Everything was as in a new Russian film. "The filtration of the bazaar" was started late at night. Knesset was chosen to solve the dispute. Why not ? It is a nice place. Quiet and not crowded. Even deserted at such a late hour. Some deputies were wandering about the hall trying to keep from yawning. The speakers were hardly listened to. The conversation was carried out vaguely as in any decent society. The cards remained unrevealed until it was necessary. But everything important has been said and heard.

Now back to the facts. The TV bazaar "was being filtrated". In fact, it was the TV commercial market. To be more precise, the "Russian" commercial market "was being filtrated". It was the Israeli commercial on the foreign TV that was officially stated to be under discussion. But it was a show. No need to mention the pure Russian nature of the dispute. The meeting has been arranged by our deputies where they have been splitting the Russian commercial pie; neither English nor the Arab one, as the officials from the Ministry of Communication said. They also openly showed their interest in the business. The interest was clearly seen in everything that was said by the Minister of Communication, Reuven Rivlin and the Head of the TV Cable and Satellite Council, Dorith Inbar.

Indeed, there is no harm in telling the truth. The main idea of what the Ministry of Communication was interested in was stated by Ms. Inbar right the day before the meeting, at the ceremony of granting the license to the first "Russian" cable channel (which name "Your TV channel" had been changed for "Israel Plus " before the ceremony): "Everything will be done to protect the new channel from unfair competition". It is clear enough that the Ministry provides the cover for the "Russian cable". The rest is unimportant and is said to divert attention. It is said that the new channel is a national commercial enterprise and needs a support; that it is to compete with the Russian TV companies that are head and shoulders above it; that the Israeli law forbids any commercial on the cable TV, though "there are some exceptions for all new channels among which there is the 'Israel Plus'"... All these statements are for the ill-informed and ignorant people. However, there are no such people who gathered in Knesset and it is not easy to make fool of them. Why should the "Russian cable" be granted privileges ? What are the grounds? Is it in order to create a new monopolist and, moreover, in such a limited sector of the TV market? What is about the right to have a choice that the Russian-speaking TV audience is being deprived of ? What about the concept of "a free broadcasting" which was announced as a priority for the nearest future ? The ban on TV Israeli commercials will make the Russian largest TV channels ORT, RTR, NTV, TV-6, so popular among the repatriates, leave the country. At the same time, the ban won't considerably affect the well-being of either MTV, CMM, or the Katar "AI-Jazira" which will also lose the Israeli commercials, as the initiators of this action say. It is highly possible that an exception will be made for them. However, it is doubtful that such exception will be granted to the Russian channels.

On the one hand, the Ministry of Communication protects its protege. On the other hand, the Russian-speaking deputies Sofa Landver ("Avoda"), Michail Nudelman (NDI), Gennadiy Riger (IBA), Alexander Tsynker ("Demvybor") protect their electors. "All this is very strange and upsetting". The bureaucrats are apparently tolerant towards Levaev and his company (the entrepreneur Lev Levaev is the main shareholder of "Israel Plus". - A.P.)", comments one of the four deputies, thoroughly choosing his words. "The sheer populism", the Levaev's followers respond.- "They simply play Gusinskiy's tune". And he is known to be on good terms with "Avoda".

... It is a common knowledge that Gusinskiy is still closely connected with the Russian TV business. Besides, now he is building the Russian international TV network in Keln for the Russian-speaking emigrants in Europe, the USA and Australia. He needs the Israeli market very much. Consequently, he is against any obstacles that block his expansion..." The situation is interesting indeed. There is another serious participant appeared behind the wings of the TV bazaar. Perhaps he pretends to be its manager. In any case, the former boss of NTV does not intend to give up the battle to Levaev as he had to do it once in Moscow. Frankly speaking, the reason of his defeat was Jewish but not commercial. Actually he gave up the battle to the former ally and his old foe Berezovskiy and not to Levaev himself. At the beginning of 2000 Levaev and Berezovskiy made a revolution with the support of the Kremlin resulting in resignation of Gusinskiy and his RJC (Russian Jewish Congress) from ruling the Jewish life in Russia. Levaev personally headed a new dominant Jewish organisation of the country, Federation of the Jewish communities of Russia. He merited the status of the main Russian Jew as his former companion couldn't have resisted him due to "some technical reasons". Now the contest of the two giants (however I can feel the third one somewhere) has been shifted to the Israeli TV problem. The rest of the participants such as Moscow TV channels, the Israeli Ministry of Communication and our deputies are more the supers than players in this game. Not only millions were put at stake (the gross capacity of the Israeli commercial TV market is more than $ 250 million; the gross capacity of its Russian segment is about 10 millions) but a long-term competition for the leadership.

We, the audience, are more interested in the question of how the prize will be shared. In short, what are we going to have out of it ? The direct participants of the share do not have much trust in Levaev's TV. In spite of the pretentious name, the organisers of "Israel Plus" will face many difficulties to attract the attention of the audience of the Russian powerful rivals. It will be difficult even if the main sponsor keeps his promise and invests the promised millions. Neither the Levaev's followers, nor their rivals believe that will be 130 of them. The matter is that such amount is more than enough for the daily two-hour "exclusive" broadcast, rather small staff and modest salaries. Besides, the channel lacks the proper creative potential. This makes a tough competition for the viewer behind the commercial scenes. The hope that "the topic will help" and that "the Russian-speaking Israeli people are more interested in the events in Jerusalem that in Moscow" is doubtful due to the evident lack of professionalism. Furthermore, it is highly unbelievable that the new channel will succeed in gaining the audience in 3-4 months as its managers officially state. Well, good luck! And not only to the Levaev's followers. Unlike the bureaucrats from the Ministry of Communication who happened to be present at the "bazaar" as bat-and-ball providers, we, the TV audience and journalists, wish the luck to be ours.

Let all flowers blossom as the deceased Pekin leader said once. "Your" and "our" channels are Moscow and Keln TV networks, "Aktualnost" (a new, yet piloting programme of "NTV-International") and its "Segodnya" in Israel with Alexander Stupnikov. By the way, Stupnikov, enjoying the status of the Russian-speaking TV broadcast veteran, wished good luck to the new channel and rejoiced for his countrymen who will have one more source of information and for the colleagues-journalists who will get the job there. But the attempts to remake the Russian commercial market didn't please him. They reminded him the methods of dealing with the press in the post-Soviet countries: "It must be a public and sponsors' choice but neither the politicians', nor the administrators'".

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