In 2006 I was invited to take part in one of the great adventures of modern broadcasting - conquering the booming Russian television market. The company I was hired by, Potemkin Productions, had been founded by Tim, a British executive producer, and Ivan, a Russian entrepreneur who had made millions in advertising and wanted to do the same in television. In 2005, the year before I went to Moscow to work for Potemkin, the Russian TV advertising market had grown by 37 per cent to $2.33 billion (the world average was 5.8 per cent), making it by far the fastest growing media market in Europe. In the 1990s and the early Putin years television had largely been a plaything for oligarchs and a vote-winning tool, but now it was about ratings, formats and revenue. Flush with cash from advertising and backed by energy companies, the Russian channels were spending money as fast as they could - their problem was working out which programmes to make. The Russians were convinced that the British knew TV's magic formula: most of television's most successful formats had been invented in the UK. Simply saying you were a producer from London got you any meeting you wanted. Potemkin's plan was to take British shows like The Apprentice, Come Dine with Me and Faking It and remake them with local talent. It seemed so simple.
LRB 3 February 2011 | PDF Download