Moscow lines up most expensive Eurovision

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The Independent Online

Russia is splashing out more money than any country in Eurovision history for this week's high-tech spectacle as it relishes last year's victory and basks in the television spotlight.

Local media reports say $42 million is being spent on the 54th year of the competition, which will choose a winner tomorrow in a stadium built to host the 1980 Olympic Games.

The Russian government alone is spending $30 million for the event, Russian business daily Vedomosti recently reported, citing an unnamed official.

Moscow is using 30 per cent of the world's entire stock of LED screens on its lavish stage, said a spokeswoman for the Swiss-based European Broadcasting Union (EBU), an association of broadcasters from 56 countries which runs the contest.

Contestants can also party at a specially designed bar, which has been set up metres from Red Square in an enormous pre-revolutionary building.

Dima Bilan's win in Belgrade in 2008 was a source of enormous pride for Russia and its leaders. Last weekend a beaming Prime Minister Vladimir Putin stepped out of character by performing a little jive while touring the set.

"For eastern European countries to be participating and winning in Eurovision helps them build their reputation and I do not think that has been lost on Russia," Barry Viniker, who runs the Eurovision fan website http://www.esctoday.com, told Reuters.

"Greece and Turkey used it to launch massive tourism campaigns, Ukraine used it to show they were moving closer to Europe, and Russia will make sure everything goes well."

According to Russian pollsters Levada, a third of Russia's 142 million people will be tuning in to watch Eurovision this year, many more than in previous years. One of Europe's most watched annual TV shows with an audience of about 100 million, Saturday's final could hit a record 120 million viewers, local media has reported, saying ex-Soviet Central Asian countries will also tune in.

The country's state-controlled Channel One is the host broadcaster and is sharing the cost with the government, the EBU and advertisers.

EBU members will provide 5 million euros ($6.8 million), while the Russian contributors declined to comment on their precise share of the cost.

While tickets for the final range from $150 to just over $3,000, Russia will make a loss on the contest, Vedomosti says, quoting the organiser of the contest in Russia, Valery Vinogradov.

"This is not about making money, but about the effect it will have on foreign policy," he said.

But in the Russian capital, which is packed with exorbitantly priced cafes and sports utility vehicles, the opportunity to make money has not been missed.

"Prices here are crazy. Beers cost 8 euros and we can barely afford our hotel, and it isn't even that nice", said 27-year old Lars, a Dutch tourist who came with three friends for the show.

Russia's anti-monopoly service said it is looking into a case against several hotels in the centre who have upped their prices by up to 2,000 roubles ($62.36) a night during the show.

An upmarket hotel near the Kremlin, which is not being investigated, but is housing many fans said it was charging 11,500 roubles ($358.6) for a single room this weekend, up from its standard price of 9,200 roubles.

Hotels which have overcharged will be fined up to 15 percent of last year's turnover if they are found to have broken anti-trust rules during the contest.

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