Crossroads Asia

In Kazakhstan’s Battle for Cable TV, Russia Stands its Ground

Despite Astana’s efforts to restrict its presence, foreign content continues to dominate Kazakhstan’s airwaves.

In Kazakhstan’s Battle for Cable TV, Russia Stands its Ground
Credit: Pixabay

Retransmission of Russian TV channels in Kazakhstan is set to continue despite government attempts to limit their activities. The move will see channels NTV-Mir, RTR Planeta, Russia 24, and Russia Culture continue broadcasting until early next year.

The decision was announced after negotiations were held between Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Information and Communications (MIK) and its Russian counterpart, the Ministry of Communications and Mass Media.

Russian cable TV operators will maintain their existing licenses until March 1, 2018 before further discussions are set to take place.

Despite government efforts to restrict its presence, foreign content continues to dominate the country’s airwaves. Cable companies currently air around 150 channels each, of which around 70 percent are foreign. This means they are exempt from domestic restrictions, such as those requiring a certain amount of content to be broadcast in the Kazakh language.

Foreign media also avoids restrictions on advertising. For example, foreign content can advertise alcohol while local content cannot.

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Kazakhstan attempted to counteract this imbalance on January 1, 2016 with legislation designed to censor advertising content. In effect, cable operators would have been forced to edit out advertisements from any foreign content they broadcast.

Its implementation was delayed after cable operators complained they lack the resources to monitor and restrict advertising on all their channels.

Kazakhstan has also grown weary of the perceived influence of Russia media in the country. Roughly 75 percent of Kazakhstan’s population, including its substantial native Russian population and urbanized Kazakhs, regularly tune into Russian broadcasts. Kazakhstan’s most popular domestic TV channel, First Channel Eurasia, also regularly carries content from Russia’s First Channel – a company that has a 20 percent share in its Kazakh counterpart.

Broadcasters complain that Astana’s stifling control of domestic media and lack of funding for domestic content has left the country unable to compete with better-produced Russian content. Recent research has also shown that Kazakhstan’s government only subsidizes channels that promote “patriotic content” and programs which bolster the popularity of President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

In March, Kazakhstan’s Khabar news holding launched a revamped movie channel, El Arna, which has since been broadcasting domestic series and educational content designed to capture some audience share from Russian channels.

“The main goal of modern state policy is promote our own [content] under the common brand ‘made in Kazakhstan’” the government announced on its website. “I am sure the channel will not only win the hearts of TV viewers, but will also contribute to the development of creativity in our country.”

The government has been investing heavily in content this year, including a 10-part epic widely marketed as Kazakhstan’s own “Game of Thrones.”

Ultimately, the struggle is political. Astana is concerned that if too many channels are pushed from cable TV packages, viewers will resort to installing satellite dishes. Content from these channels is not subject to Kazakh law and it is practically impossible to censor.