Kremlin-friendly oil group Surgutneftegas has bought a 35% stake in Russian television broadcaster Ren-TV.
The company outbid Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation and the channel's founders and managers Irena and Dimitry Lesnevsky, who wanted to buy back shares after they sold their 30% stake six months ago to RTL Group.
Surgut has acquired its holding from the 70% owned by steel firm Severstal, whose founder and billionaire ceo Alexei Mordashov worked on President Vladimir Putin's 2004 election campaign [WAMN: 11-Aug-05].
Ren-TV is nominally the only major Russian channel not under state control. It has a potential audience of around 97 million people in more than 700 cities and towns.
Mordashov says many big players made offers for the stake. He claims the decision to sell to Surgut was based on price and the oil group's financial clout to invest in future operations.
But all may not be lost for Murdoch. Sources in Moscow say Severstal may be willing to sell its remaining share to NewsCorp, finally giving the media giant its foothold in Russia's lucrative TV market.
Data sourced from MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff