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Murdoch Looks to Sell News Outdoor

MTA News Outdoor billboard in Moscow in the run-up to Russia's participation in the 2006 Turin Winter Olympic Games.
Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation is looking to sell the country's largest outdoor advertising firm.

"News Corp. is currently optimizing its assets around the globe by disposing of some of its assets overseas," Maxim Tkachyov, general director of News Corp., said Tuesday. "The company is involved in a $5 billion bid to acquire Dow Jones & Co. We are part of this trend."

Although no potential buyer has stepped forward officially as of yet, the 34,000 billboards and other outdoor spots owned by the company could prove an attractive asset ahead of the State Duma elections in December and the presidential election next March.

"If Gazprom-Media or any other Kremlin-friendly media company acquires News Outdoor, the firm will be transferred to the service of the presidential administration," said Yury Korgunyuk, a political analyst at the Indem think tank.

The plans to sell the company, which owns and operates advertising spots in 86 cities across the country, come on the heels of a court ruling in June allowing the spots to be used for political campaign ads.

"The government had attempted to have outdoor advertisements for politicians made illegal through the anti-monopoly service," Korgunyuk said.

"Maybe the authorities will now find a backdoor to the decision by making such an acquisition."

The company announced last month that it was considering the sale. Tkachyov said Tuesday that potential buyers included Gazprom-Media and Vladimir Potanin's Prof-Media, adding, "There is no better time than now to sell a media asset."

"We can neither confirm nor deny this report," said a spokeswoman for Gazprom-Media, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing company policy. "We simply have no information."

Marina Dralova, spokeswoman for Prof-Media also cited company policy in declining comment Tuesday.

News Outdoor Russia general director Sergei Zhelesnyak said Tuesday his company works closely with Gazprom-Media, but added that neither Gazprom-Media nor any other company had approached the group with an offer.

If such an offer is in the works, there is some question as to how effective the move would be.

"If Gazprom-Media or any other politically affiliated company acquires News Outdoor, it will only have a secondary effect on the elections," said Dmitry Orlov, political analyst at the Agency for Political and Economic Communications.

Controlling 18 percent of market share in the country, News Outdoor Russia has had a bit of a rough ride lately.

It lost 25 billboard spots in the city center and another 100 on the Third Ring Road and Moscow Ring Road in May as a result of a City Hall drive to reduce the number of advertisements throughout the city.

Also in May, the city traffic police directorate called for the removal of any billboards not strictly adhering to state regulations.

Experts say that could mean the removal of close to 90 percent of all outdoor billboards throughout the country.
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