Fidesz think-tank Századvég to cooperate with pro-gov’t Echo TV on programming

September 7, 2016

Viktor Orbán and Gábor Széles
Viktor Orbán and Echo TV owner Gábor Széles

Leading Századvég employees have  been involved in producing and advising pro-government Echo TV’s productions, giving rise to rumors that the Fidesz think-tank might be taking over the right-wing channel, reports Hungarian daily Népszabadság.

The Echo TV-Századvég cooperation will produce two shows for the autumn schedule that will feature Századvég employees as regular guests.

News of the two shows were confirmed in writing by Echo TV owner and pro-government oligarch Gábor Széles.

“In keeping with intellectual standards of the conservative civilian media world, two new shows will be launched during primetime with the help of Századvég employees, thereby keeping with my expectation of [Echo TV],” Széles responded to an inquiry by Népszabadság.

Széles also told Népszabadság he is not in talks with Századvég regarding the sale of Echo TV.

Between 2012 and 2014 alone, the Századvég Foundation was reportedly paid some HUF 4.1 billion (USD 15 million) to prepare studies for the government.

According to Népszabadság, Széles is in cahoots with Századvég to draw viewers away from Hír TV (which is owned by former Fidesz oligarch Lajos Simicska). Ever since Simicska’s very public falling out with Prime Minister Orbán in 2015, virtually all of the oligarch’s media outlets have maintained a very critical tone with respect to their coverage of ruling party Fidesz.

The Simicska-Orbán feud resulted in the Simicska media empire losing a portion of its followers, but the departing audience did not transition to the Széles-owned Echo TV and Magyar Hírlap.

Széles’ only benefit from the feud, according to Népszabadság, is that his media products have received substantially more state advertising since Simicska and Orbán parted ways. But the state advertisements have done little more than cushion Széles’ loss-making products. Népszabadság puts the total amount of losses for Echo TV and Magyar Hírlap over the past five years at around HUF 1.5 billion.

Simicska getting the squeeze

Hír TV’s uncertain future after the feud was not only caused by several leading employees leaving to take positions with public media outlets or pro-government competitors, the channel is also getting the squeeze from cable providers who are increasingly unwilling to continue paying a high subscription fee to the channel.

According to Népszabadság, once RTL Klub was able to reach an agreement with cable providers for HUF 135 per subscription, Hir TV’s share of this was decreased from HUF 60-80 to HUF 30-50.

Right now, much of Hír TV’s fate depends on the channel’s ability to secure strong enough revenues through cable subscriptions in the coming years. However, cable providers are under pressure to pay more for Andy Vajna’s TV2 and its affiliate channels.

According to Népszabadság, Hír TV executives are currently trying to work out an agreement with cable providers, but Simicska’s people are worried that decreased revenues from cable television subscriptions may put a damper on their business plans through 2018.

In July, Hír TV’s market share was 1.2 percent (around 105,000 viewers), compared to Echo TV’s 0.2 percent (16-27,000 viewers).