Disney to launch free TV channel in Russia

Tue Dec 16, 2008 4:49pm EST
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By Gina Keating

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Walt Disney Co and Media-One Holdings Ltd on Tuesday unveiled plans to launch a nationwide, free-to-air television channel in Russia in 2009, populated by Disney Channel and locally produced programing.

Disney will take a 49 percent stake in the joint venture and provide cash and programing as well as expertise in content acquisition and marketing to kids and families.

The company would not comment on the size of its investment in the joint venture, or the length of the deal.

Media-One, the majority stakeholder, brings to the table 30 owned and operated TV stations throughout Russia, as well as knowledge of the Russian market and regulatory environment.

The deal still must receive regulatory approval from Russia, which requires foreign investors to have Russian partners. Russia's regulatory environment for TV is seen as similar to that of western European countries.

Disney already operates local retail, licensing, theatrical distribution, mobile and Internet businesses in Russia.

Andy Bird, chairman of Walt Disney International, said on Tuesday that its newest Disney Channel would reach 75 percent of a Russian population that was already "extremely familiar" with the company's fairy tales and products.

Disney opted for a free-to-air strategy in Russia to get the broadest reach possible because paid cable and satellite TV subscription is "very limited," he said.   Continued...

<p>Disney characters Mickey Mouse (R) and Minnie Mouse pose at the premiere of the Disney Channel movie 'High School Musical 2' at Downtown Disney in Anaheim, California August 14, 2007. REUTERS/Fred Prouser</p>