There are rumors in Hungary’s media market that former Fidesz oligarch-turned-government critic Lajos Simicska (pictured) is looking to sell his free daily Metropol, reports news site 444.hu. Now that the free daily publication may no longer be distributed at Budapest metro stations, it has been harder and harder for Metropol to find advertisers.
A pro-government media company controlled by “informal advisor to the prime minister” Árpad Habony has launched a full blitz on the nation’s media market. Generously funded by taxpayers in the form of a steady revenue stream from government- and state-owned company advertising, Habony’s media products are taking over much of the turf previously dominated by Simicska. One such project, Habony’s free daily Lokál, is set to replace Simicska’s Metropol as the country’s free daily of choice.
The Budapest Transportation Authority (BKV) and state-owned railway company (MÁV) have already reached agreements with Habony‘s company to distribute the free daily on their properties. So far, Lokál‘s executives plan to distribute only 150,000 copies per day.
According to 444.hu, Habony’s company has also contracted with the Hungarian Postal Service for the distribution of the paper.
Simicska’s Metropol has been taking a beating since the oligarch’s falling out with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Both BKV and MÁV have either terminated or refused to renew contracts with Metropol‘s publisher to disseminate the paper on their grounds.
In 2014, the final year before the Simicska-Orbán break-up, the state (through various ministries and state-owned enterprises) spent around HUF 2 billion (USD 7.4 million) advertising in the free daily. For the past year or so no ministerial or state-owned company advertisements have appeared in Metropol.
In 2014, Metropol‘s publisher (MGT Media) made HUF 437 million on revenues of HUF 3 billion. Shorn of state advertising revenues, Metropol is most likely running huge losses.
According to 444.hu, there are rumors of potential buyers lining up to purchase Metropol’s publisher but nothing concrete just yet.
Simicska’s latest sell-off of a media asset comes after he sold Hungary’s most popular radio station, Class FM, to Sláger Rádió Zrt. and Marquard Média Hungary. The new owners happen to be the very same interests that lost their broadcast frequency in 2009 when Fidesz and the Hungarian Socialist Party allegedly divvied up two expiring radio frequencies. The Fidesz frequency went to Simicska’s Class FM. Now, Simicska has sold the frequency back to the very same company that lost it in 2009.
Class FM’s frequency license is set to come up for renewal in September. Given the government’s current proclivity to stick it to Simicska at every turn, it is more than likely that Hungary’s media authority will strip Class FM of the frequency. But because Class FM is now in the hands of foreign owners (owners who have been cheated by the Hungarian state once already in 2009 but whose right to retain the media frequency was upheld by the European court), the media authority may have a harder time justifying its rejection of the frequency license’s renewal.