Estonian viewer paying Kremlin networks three million a year

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PHOTO: Erik Prozes

Clients of Estonian TV operators pay around €3 million in license fees to Russian networks in service providers’ basic packages. Advertising revenue from the Estonian market adds another €3 million.

“Operators charge me, an Estonian citizen, for access to their basic package and pay a part of the money to major Russian networks included in that package,” said Jüri Pihel, professor at the Baltic Film, Media, Arts and Communication School.

“I have to pay for those propaganda networks even if I don’t want to – I cannot opt out because they are part of the basic package. I might not watch them, but I still have to pay,” Pihel, who has run several TV channels, added.

Experts who asked to remain anonymous said that Estonian operators pay the Perviy Baltiysky Kanal (PBK), NTV-Mir, RTR-Planeta and Ren TV a total of €2.7-3 million in license fees every year.

The networks are brought to Estonian operators by the Baltijas Mediju Alianse (BMA) registered in Latvia and the Baltic Authors and Propagation Alliance (BALL) in Estonia. Service providers Elisa, Telia, STV and TVPlay Home (formerly Viasat) refuse to disclose license fee sums, pointing to business secrets.

“Representatives of the Kremlin’s networks wanted to double license fees this spring; in the end, the price went up roughly 30 percent. Contracts with major Russian networks are usually signed for a year, while operators’ transmission contracts span three years,” an anonymous source said.

“Because operators did not hike the prices of basic packages, they will have to compensate some other way, by giving up other channels or haggling over license fees,” they said.

Market leaders Elisa and Telia claim that viewer interest in Russian networks is considerable and say that PBK, NTV and RTR will remain part of basic packages for them to remain competitive.

Dozens of Russian channels that can be viewed in Estonia also sell advertising seconds. PBK, NTV and RTR make around €2.8 million between them on advertising in Estonia.

True, PBK has lost roughly €1 million in advertising revenue in the past year as its viewer figures are dwindling. Some companies have stopped buying air time on the Kremlin’s propaganda networks following public pressure. In 2014, around 150 Estonian companies and agencies bought advertising on major Russian networks, including the health insurance fund.

Last year, media expert Raul Rebane proposed boycotting Russian networks and especially PBK, mainly by not buying advertising seconds on their channels. There are no laws regulating the activities of Russian networks in Estonia.

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