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BIRTHDAY: Oct. 2, 1954, Moscow. FAMILY: Married to Masha Shakhova, NTV's PR director; one daughter, Yelizaveta, 11. EDUCATION: Postgraduate degree (Ph.D equivalent) in political philosophy, Moscow State University. CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Nine years at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of the U.S. and Canada. HOBBIES: Photography. PRIVATE CHANNEL NTV THRIVES IN NEW RUSSIA

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When the Soviet Union disintegrated, "a lot of people here were dreaming about commercial TV," says one of those dreamers, Igor Malashenko. So far, the greying but boyish-faced 39-year-old is the only person who has been able to make that dream come true.

Today, more than two years after that heady time, Mr. Malashenko is president-CEO of NTV, the Russian acronym for Independent Television, an apt name because NTV is the only non-state funded network in Russia providing a full range of programming from news to cartoons.

Nine years after former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev gave the USSR's citizens voice and permitted a measure of state criticism with his policy of glasnost. After more than two years after the historic collapse of Communism, the airwaves of Russia are in some ways strikingly reminiscent of the grey, restrictive decades of socialism-with one exception, NTV.

Coverage on state network news programs is still surprisingly slanted toward the government. News shows do not dare challenge the competence or questionable health of Russian President Boris Yeltsin, and coverage of domestic and foreign affairs seem to bear the stamp of the official state line.

In this still airless atmosphere, independence does not come easily. "Every bureaucrat tells you, `We are paying you, so behave'," says Mr. Malashenko.

He is speaking from experience. After three years working for the Communist Party's Central Committee, Mr. Malashenko did a short stint as press spokesman for Mr. Gorbachev. Upon that leader's ouster in 1991, Mr. Malashenko was appointed director of Ostankino, the central state TV network still watched by viewers virtually throughout the former Soviet Union.

There, he says, he learned "what not to do" in the job, which he quit in February 1993, frustrated with the constrictions of a state-funded network. Even now, he is bitter. "It's post-totalitarian TV created under the Soviet system and still a part of the post-Soviet system. It should disappear."

When he left, Mr. Malashenko set out to build something that could replace it. "I had the support of many TV professionals at Ostankino," he says, "but I didn't have the other two necessary things: money and airtime."

The first element came last June when a consortium of three Russian banks put up the money that would get the ball rolling, enabling NTV to go on the air last October. As for airtime, the key piece of the puzzle fell into place last January. After much debate in the press, President Yeltsin issued a decree granting NTV eight hours a day on one of Russia's government channels. Until then, NTV had been relegated to airing some of its programs on the state-run St. Petersburg channel's limited schedule. Mr. Malashenko thinks the President's decision to free up a piece of the state channel was motivated by last December's debacle when, despite the broadcasting bureaurcrats' best effort to control campaign coverage, neo-fascist Vladimir Zhirinovsky won a big victory in parliamentary elections, mostly on the strength of his TV appearances.

"The political manipulation backfired," and produced the opposite of the result they had sought, Mr. Malashenko says of the authorities. "They began to understand it's safer to have a non-government private TV station."

While NTV shows cartoons and movies in both Russian and foreign languages, and its audience numbers among some 40 million European Russians Mr. Malashenko will characterize only as "substantial," clearly its main strength is news.

Although Mr. Malashenko says NTV is still losing money, "our investors were prepared for this from the beginning."

He says the network has attracted more advertisers than he expected in its brief existence. About 60% of the advertisers are Russian, and the foreign brands advertised include Cadbury's Fruit & Nut Bars, Philip Morris' Marlboro, L&M and Prince cigarettes and Reebok.

But when it comes to advertising, the state-funded networks remain NTV's worst enemy.

"State-controlled TV is doing a very bad thing for the ad market," he says, explaining that because they don't rely on ads for their existence, the state networks sell time at fire sale prices.

As a result, Mr. Malashenko is forced to limit prices to a maximum of about $6,000 per minute to compete. But, he adds, these prices are introductory and will soon rise.

This unnatural situation in Russian TV is about to end, Mr. Malashenko asserts. "The government is bankrupt, and sooner or later TV networks will have to meet operating expenses themselves."

But in the same breath, he contradicts himself, ruminating on just how deep a hole the politicians running TV in Russia have dug for themselves. "It will take years to clear up this mess," he says.

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