Although awaited by many as a breath of fresh air on the Russian television scene, critics remain divided. Anna Kachkayeva, RFE/RL's Russian Service TV observer, argues that there are basically three groups of critics:
1) Enthusiasts and idealists welcome the new design with new hosts (like Svetlana Sorokina and Dmitry Bykov) and TV formats catering to audiences more interested in serious topics.
2) The second opinion is more skeptical, saying that the relaunch is merely cosmetic and imitation, as there are no live broadcasts and certain persons and topics will be still banned from the screen.
3) The third group greets the revamped Channel Five with nothing but ridicule and mockery.
The mainly St. Petersburg-based channel looks back on a rich tradition of Leningrad television primarily associated with its "intelligentnost" -- its closeness to the realm of refinement and the intelligentsia.
Yet in 1997, President Boris Yeltsin divested the channel of its federal status -- the federal license was granted to the channel Kultura -- which was returned only in 2007 through a decree by then-President Vladimir Putin.
In late 2009 the announcement of the restructuring infuriated staff members, who sent an open letter to President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin with the aim of averting massive layoffs. As a result of the restructuring, senior management discarded the label "Petersburg" because it found it inappropriate for a federal channel.
Looking at the official website, the channel claims to be an intelligent and knowing interlocutor that should be interesting for every thinking person, offering an alternative to the ubiquitous soap operas and flat talk shows. Dmitry Bykov, host of the new show "Oil painting," hopes that freedom will be blooming on Channel Five as, like Joseph Brodsky said, "freedom is the fifth season of the year."
Together with REN-TV, the newspaper "Izvestia," and the National Telecommunications Group of Companies, Channel Five belongs to the National Media Group founded in February 2008. However, the group's ownership -- the bank Rossia, Severstal, Surgutneftegaz, and Sogaz -- makes cardinal changes highly unlikely.
Figures from the TNS Gallup research institute show that Channel Five had only 1 percent market share in Moscow during the first two weeks after the reset. In other regions, it's often just technically impossible to receive Channel Five.
In a commentary dedicated to the 15th birthday of the First Channel on April 1, TV host Vladimir Pozner lamented that television in Russia has become less sharp and critical and mainly embraces entertainment. Only political change can alter the situation, Pozner said.
Half a year ago, Pozner himself was censored by Channel Five when he was awarded a major Russian TV award in St. Petersburg.
-- Fabian Burkhardt