Why One European Company Is Launching Seven Channels in Russia

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SPI International has struck a deal with Russian distributor Orion for several channels, including FilmBox and FilmBox Arthouse, which will feature Western movies.

SPI International, which operates in several countries in central and eastern Europe, has entered the Russian market in the hopes of benefiting from growing interest of Russian consumers in foreign content.

SPI International's movie channels offer a variety of films and TV series, including much from the 1990s to present times, such as The Big Lebowski and 8 Mile and ABC series American Crime.

SPI International is entering Russia at a time when viewers' interest in foreign TV content is on the rise, attracting new players. Last month, Viacom International Media Networks bowed a Russian version of Spike.

The company has struck a deal with Russian pay TV distributor Orion to launch several channels, including FilmBox and FilmBox Arthouse, EroŃ…, FightBox and FashionBox. Orion said it plans to bring SPI International channels to 30 percent of Russian households by the end of 2017.

"Our task is to ensure distribution of SPI channels to a maximum number of operators available in Russia," Kirill Makhnovsky, general director of Orion, told The Hollywood Reporter. He added that Orion's subscriber base is 3 million, and another 10 million can be reached as subscribers of the company's cable operator partners.

"SPI channels cover the genre preferences of the majority of pay TV subscribers in Russia, such as foreign film and TV content, sports, erotic content, science, travel and fashion," Makhnovsky said. "High-quality international-level content offered by SPI can compete with such channels already known in the market, such as Discovery, Extreme Sport and Playboy."

"We are quite sure Russian viewers will appreciate our channels as they often offer a different approach to their respective theme," a spokesman for SPI International told THR.

He added that SPI International originally wanted to enter the Russian market in 2014. But legislative changes limiting foreign ownership of media companies put the plans on hold. Operating in Russia via a local distributor makes SPI International exempt from a law limiting foreign ownership in media companies to 20 percent stakes.