Russian Advertising Law[3] has been substantially amended in the course of 2014 and January 2015. More details are below, but the most remarkable amendments relate to the introduction of a prohibition on advertising on Pay-TV channels and prohibition on advertising of alcoholic beverages. In addition, some restrictions introduced in 2014 have been now softened, with more potential amendments in the works.  Parties seeking to advertise in Russia should continue to monitor closely for new developments.

The Ban on Advertising on Pay-TV Channels, and Subsequent Amendments

The amendments[4] to the Advertising Law, which introduced a prohibition on advertising on Pay-TV channels and/or channels that use technical decoding devices came into force on 1 January 2015.[5] There is an exception from the ban for must-carry TV channels and channels distributed using a limited radio frequency resource through terrestrial over-the-air broadcasting.

These amendments were criticized by the Russian Pay-TV market, which historically has had low subscription fees in Russia. This reaction, including from state and regional Pay-TV channels, has prompted the legislators to start considering potential amendments to the law. As a first step, the legislator suggested[6] introducing an exemption from the prohibition for so-called “regional” Pay-TV channels broadcasting through cable within the territory of one region of the Russian Federation or within one or a few municipal units of one region of the Russian Federation. This legislative initiative did not find the necessary support and did not result in law.

A new set of amendments has now been elaborated and signed by the Russian President into Federal Law No. 5-FZ of 3 February 2015 effective from 4 February 2015. Under this Federal Law, advertising is allowed on Pay-TV channels with more than 75% national (Russian) mass media content.

Russian mass media content is further defined as content produced by Russian citizens and/or entities incorporated in Russia, and/or under the request of Russian mass media and with not less than 50% of Russian investment whether (i) in Russian (or other local languages spoken in Russia) or (ii) in a foreign language if this product is intended for Russian mass media. Russian mass media content also includes content produced under international agreements ratified by the Russian Federation. Further rules for Russian mass media conformity will be established by the federal antimonopoly authority.

Though these exemptions would undoubtedly cover certain Pay-TV channels, there are still many other Pay-TV channels which are subject to the advertising ban. There is also a hope for further liberalization of the advertising restrictions for Pay-TV channels.

The Ban on Advertising of Alcoholic Beverages, and Subsequent Amendments

The advertising of alcoholic beverages (any beverages containing ethyl alcohol content of more than 0.5% in the finished product, like spirits, wine, beer, cider, etc. – “Alcoholic Beverages“) was fully prohibited on mass media since 1 January 2013, when its advertising on printed mass media and on the Internet was prohibited.

In 2014, in anticipation of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, certain amendments[7] were introduced in order to allow the advertising of beer and other beverages made of beer in (i) printed mass media (excluding the first and the last broadside of the newspaper and the first and the last pages and the cover of magazines); (ii) during broadcasting of sports events and on TV channels specializing in sports information and broadcasting; and (iii) within sports venues and 100 meters from them during official sports events (except for youth sports events). These amendments entered into force on 22 July 2014 and will be remain in force only till 1 January 2019.

The Advertising Law’s clause on alcohol advertising was further amended[8] in order to allow the advertisement of wine and sparkling wine manufactured in Russia from the grapes grown in Russia (the “Russian Wines“) aimed at boosting the production of wines in Russia. According to such amendments, the advertisement of Russian Wines is allowed on printed mass media (excluding the first and the last broadside of the newspaper and the first and the last pages and the cover of magazines), as well as on TV and radio from 11:00 pm till 7:00 am, except while broadcasting youth sports events. These amendments became effective on 1 January 2015.

In January 2015, the legislators considered, however, that the allowance of advertisement of Russian Wines was made in a rush and may affect the Russian citizens’ health. Consequently, a draft law[9] cancelling the amendments on the advertisement of Russian Wines was submitted for the consideration of the State Duma (the lower chamber of the Russian Parliament) and is currently being discussed.