Disney is expanding its reach in Russia through the recent establishment of a joint venture with UTH Russia, which will specialize in the production of films and TV series in Russian language as well as showing Disney’s signature programming.

The companies are launching an ad-supported free-to-air Disney Channel in Russia which will reach 40m households.

Under the terms of the agreement, Disney, through one of its subsidiaries, will acquire a 49% stake in the Seven TV network from UTH Russia. The new Disney Channel will replace the current branding and programming of Seven TV.

Marina Zhigalova-Ozkan [pictured], head of Walt Disney Russia, will become CEO of the new venture.

According to her, the joint venture has already started production of youth television series After School, which is expected to start screening in autumn 2012.

In addition, next year the new joint venture will start production of a feature film, the details of which were not disclosed.

Zhigalova-Ozkan noted that Russia and the CIS are important markets for Disney, which have a separate development strategy, contrary to the global strategy of the company.

Ivan Tavrin, CEO, UTH Russia, said: “We believe that our partnership with The Walt Disney Company, the global entertainment leader, will establish a popular and highly successful free-to-air business. The superb infrastructure and technical foundation of UTH in combination with Disneys unique brand and global expertise will deliver excellent results for the Disney Channel in Russia. Seven TVs transformation from sports to general entertainment in 2010 helped us to significantly improve its ratings and financial results, now it is time for a new page in the networks history. I am confident about the success of the Disney Channel and our long term partnership with The Walt Disney Company.

So far, Disney had only one film project in Russia, The Book of Masters, which is based on the Russian folk tales and which was produced by Disney in cooperation with TRITE studio, owned by Nikita Mikhalkov.

In addition to production, currently Disney operates its distribution company in Russia, which is known as Walt Disney Studios Sony Pictures Releasing (WDSSPR) and which is - a joint venture between Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures International and Sony Pictures Releasing International.

This year WDSSPR became Russia’s leading company in terms of box office.