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Pay-TV businesses affected by changes in Russian advertising laws

11 November 2014
On 1 January 2015 amendments to the Russian Federal law “On advertising” No 38 of 13 March 2006 will come into force. The main change is prohibition of advertisement on Pay-TV channels and/or channels that use technical decoding devices. The law does not apply to Free-TV channels.

The amendments affect all Pay-TV channels notwithstanding the country of origin. The Russian national Pay-TV channels (including those owned by the state) are equally affected.

This impending prohibition is bad news for the Russian Pay-TV sector, which does not usually make large profits even including income earned from advertising. The historically low subscription fees offered by the Russian Pay-TV sector do not quite help to set-off the forthcoming loss of advertising income.

Consequently, distributors of Pay-TV channels are forced to search for alternative solutions. Discussed solutions include more effective use of advertising time on multiplex channels (which do not fall within the restriction) and using the time between switching channels to show adverts. However these are business decisions and it is hard to predict how the market and the regulators will react.

The amendments have been widely discussed by the Russian media community. It is evident from the discussion that the amendments are not of a purely political but also of a commercial nature. With the Pay-TV sector growing and offering attractive and entertaining content, the Russian state (Free-TV) channels are unavoidably losing audiences and advertisement-based profits. The goal of the advertising prohibition is to help the state channels be competitive.

One of the effects of the prohibition may be to close the market for newer Pay-TV channels as the distributors would simply not be interested in taking channels without an established audience, particularly if they cannot sell local advertising time on those channels.

Internet TV, however, was not affected by the amendments and, therefore, may become a safe harbour for some of affected channels.

In the meantime, the Pay-TV sector is preparing for more scrutiny by the Russian regulators such as the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service (the Russian competition authority) and Roskomnadzor (the Russian state service in charge of media licensing). The potential penalties for non-compliance with the new prohibition are approximately EUR 2,000-11,000. Persistent non-compliance by a Pay-TV channel will most likely result in revocation of its licence.

There is some hope that the new prohibition may be revised in the future. For example the 2012 ban on TV advertising of beer is now being reviewed and may be amended. However, any such “come back” will require time and lobbying efforts.

Click here to view the GMC Quarterly in full

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