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Government of Hungary pumps hundreds of millions into Andy Vajna's TV2

Translation of “The government is pouring hundreds of millions into TV2” (Megállás nélkül önti a százmilliókat a TV2-be a kormány) appearing in 444.hu on February 11, 2016.  Hungary’s second largest commercial TV station was purchased by government commissioner for the film industry, casino mogul Andy Vajna earlier this year with loans obtained from two state-owned banks:

Ever since the government last year embarked on blanketing the country with its “If you come to Hungary…” propaganda billboards and ads, newer and newer propaganda messages are being foisted on the public. Billions of forints of public funds have been spent on these campaigns over the past eight months.

  • The “If you come to Hungary…” anti-refugee campaign cost HUF 380 million (USD 1.3 million).
  • The “Hungarian reforms are working” campaign cost HUF 600 million (USD 2.1 million).
  • “The country must be protected” campaign from last September cost HUF 381 million (USD 1.3 million).
  • The government appropriated HUF 1 billion for the National Communications Agency’s anti-immigration campaign. The anti-quota campaign was also paid for with these funds.
  • HUF 1.6 billion (USD 5.6 million) was spent on the campaign to promote the new “government windows”.
  • In January the government also launched its “family-friendly country” campaign.

The companies of Csaba Csetényi (known commonly as Minister Antal Rogán’s neighbor) carried out the anti-immigration and government window campaigns, so it is not surprising that the majority of the advertisements were placed with pro-government media outlets. The government still has not released the information regarding how much each media outlet was paid to run the ads. Atlatszo.hu is currently engaged in a related lawsuit with the Prime Minister’s Office.

TV2

Online and print media, radios and billboards are used to promote the government’s campaigns, but the most valuable advertising platforms are on television. TV2 did not release to us their data, but we receive television viewership from AGB Nielsen. With this information we are able to reconstruct the costs of television campaigns. Based on this summary we can see the government’s advertising campaigns last year through December took place exclusively on TV2 Group and public media.

This is worth many hundreds of millions of forints. The anti-immigration campaign cost about HUF 25 million per day to advertise on TV2. The two “Hungarian reforms are working” television spots ran 1,500 times in two months on TV2, that is, the commercials were broadcast on average 25 times per day while other commercial television channels did not even broadcast them.

In total, since the beginning of the campaign (which started in the beginning of summer), there wasn’t a day when TV2 did not run at least 20 government advertisements.

The figures above are the “list prices”, meaning the actual amount paid may be somewhat less. According to the Prime Minister’s Cabinet Office, the government paid about HUF 100 million to TV2’s companies in exchange for 1,500 spots, which, according to the figures above, has a list price of about HUF 406 million.

Last year, in less than half a year, the government spent at least HUF 400 million advertising on TV2 while not giving a single cent to any other commercial television broadcaster — and that’s just based on the mid-year government propaganda advertisements. Advertising done for state-owned enterprises, such as Szerencsejáték Zrt., Magyar Posta, MVM, Turizmus Zrt., etc., isn’t even factored into this.

Public media

In comparison to the above figures, money spent by the government advertising via public media seems small.  But there was significant money exchanged there, too.

M1’s new image and programing was introduced in March 2015. The channel’s launch was catastrophic. In addition to having all kinds of technical and editorial mix-ups, the channel became the laughing stock of the country. Its already low viewership plummeted further. By summer, at least from the perspective of the government, the pricey investment in M1 appeared to start paying off. M1 became the immigration channel. In September, when the refugee crisis was at its peak, more people started watching public media’s news broadcasts — at its peak reaching 380,000. Dramatic footage of the refugee crisis and the fear-mongering certainly supported the government’s line of communication.

Then, there were the government advertisements. The list prices here, too, exceeded the actual amounts paid, but less so than in the case of TV2. With the end of the crisis, public media’s viewership decreased back to around 200,000 viewers.  But that did little to affect the government’s spending on advertisements. There were plenty of advertisements in November and December.

It is important to note here that the advertisements in question only related to the government’s direct advertisements, and do not include advertisements from state-owned companies. On the Paks promotion campaign, MVM spent HUF 379 million (USD 1.3 million). One-third of those funds ended up with companies tied to Árpád Habony and HUF 73 million (USD 256,000) went to MTVA (Hungarian State Media Holding Company).

Other channels started airing the anti-quota spots by December. What is interesting is that these spots first began appearing on ATV, a channel associated with the left-wing. By January, the number of spots noticeably decreased: TV2 Group only pulled in HUF 24 million (USD 84,000) based on its list price. MTVA pulled in only HUF 64 million (USD 225,000) from a few hundred spots from the anti-quota advertisements. The “family-friendly Hungary” campaigns primarily targeted online platforms and other media channels. But a newer campaign has been launched since then and the “Hungarian reforms are working” spots have continued on TV2.

TV2 doubles its prices

TV2 doubled its prices starting on March 1st, despite market trends moving in the opposite direction, and regardless of the fact that their viewership had not increased recently.

TV2’s advertising machine switched into high gear again in March, at least according to information provided by the sales house on its website in February. The original pricing for a 30 second ad to run on prime time television (between 6pm-8pm), according to the original plans for March 2016, was HUF 2.5 million (USD 8,800). The new price scheme doubled that to HUF 5 million. The company is asking HUF 4.3 million (USD 15,100) for spots of the same length between 8pm and 10pm, up from the early price of HUF 2.15 million. Market leader RTL Klub’s prices, which exceeds TV2 viewership by hundreds of thousands during prime time, are much cheaper. RTL Klub’s price between 8pm-10pm for a 30 second ad is only HUF 1.2 million (USD 4,200), almost a quarter of TV2’s price.

It appears that by doubling the price of ad time, the Vajna-Habony managed television group has no intention of drawing market advertising to its station. It would make much more sense to continue earning a sizable portion of their revenue from government campaigns. If the government really does intend on launching a “national consultation” with regards to the sixth modification of the constitution, one can certainly expect yet another propaganda campaign to be launched. It is likely that TV2 would receive a huge slice of that pie.

Budapest Sentinel :