Russian national TV networks RTR (operated by All-Russia State TV and Radio company, or VGTRK) and Channel One (formerly ORT, now jointly operated by state and private entities) have encrypted their previously free-to-air satellite relays.
Both channels share a transponder on the Russian-owned Express AM1 satellite located at 40 degrees east. This transponder can be received across Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and as far as west-central Russia.
BBC Monitoring observed both channels encrypting their signals at 0007 gmt on 29 May 2006. Neither channel made any prior on-air references to the encryption.
The Channel One signal encrypted during advertisements for programmes. Before the RTR signal encrypted, a channel identification was played for several minutes with the scrolling onscreen message: "Dear viewers, night-time programmes begin in five minutes". This was followed by a test card and the encryption.
Channel One was expected to encrypt its signal on 25 May, according to a report carried by RIA Novosti news agency on 11 May. The news agency said this was due to "international requirements on the protection of copyrights" and the prevention of pirate broadcasting outside Russia. However, there was no prior notification of the encryption given by RTR.
Both services are available terrestrially and on cable systems throughout most of Russia. It is thought that the recent encryption of the satellite feeds has not affected the terrestrial and cable broadcasts within Russia. The agency report said that Channel One also planned to launch a separate service for the former Soviet republics, called Channel One CIS.
Both channels also operate variations of the domestic networks for an international audience.
RTR Planeta, the international service of RTR, is available free-to-air throughout Europe and Asia. It is also available as part of several subscription TV packages around the world, including DirecTV in the USA.
Channel One currently operates tailored services for Europe, Australia and the USA. Most of the programming on these services is not in parallel to the domestic broadcasts, although some programmes - including news - are broadcast simultaneously.
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