The Slovak private television market will expand in the next millennium when the two major channels, TV Markíza and VTV Cable, are joined by TV Luna, a new nation-wide cable station. But despite the big ambitions of all three competitors-to-be, the stations' officials and media experts say that the Slovak advertising market is too small to feed three stations of a similar orientation.
Luna was originally supposed to start broadcasting in July, but WN Danubius, the company which holds the license, appealed to the Council for Radio and Television Broadcasting last week for a delay of the broadcast starting date. The council accepted Luna's appeal and postponed the launch until January 1, 2000.
Luna, currently a Slovak regional cable provider, plans to broadcast via cable to most of the nation's territory. According to the WN Danubius owners, Peter Sedlák and Milan Nemček, the station will broadcast 70 hours per week, devoting almost 35% of its air-time to news related programmes. The special feature of the programme structure, the owners say, will be an hourly five-minute headline news report.
Luna will be financed from a loan from Devín Banka, the troubled private bank saddled with allegations of corruption and mismanagement in its administration of the billion-dollar Russian debt to Slovakia. Luna's owners, however, have declined to specify the amount of the loan, nor will they elaborate on what other financial sources will feed the station's operation.
The entrance of a new station will put greater pressure on an already tight field for television advertising, a field some media experts say has been traditionally influenced more by politics and favours than good business sense.
Media representatives blamed the former government of Vladimír Mečiar for the situation in Slovakia's media market, saying that unscrupulous clientelism and political influence on private media spoiled the professional business atmosphere and harmed the relations between advertisers and the media.
At the troubled and indebted VTV, whose former owner, Vladimír Poór, had close ties to Mečiar, advertisers largely consisted of the largest state companies and monopolies, such as Slovak Telecom and Slovak Gas Industry, as well of the state-owned banks including Všeobecná Úverová Banka (VÚB), which were all under the control of Mečiar's HZDS party and its allies. TV Markíza, the only major Slovak television currently turning a profit, said it suffered as a result.
"Under the former management of VTV, the companies that had been ruled by the people close to the HZDS did not advertise with Markíza," said Michal Arpáš, head of the Markíza public relations .
The new principal owner of VTV, Tatiana Heldová of Satel Media, agreed.
"The market doesn't work on business principles, but according to political orientation and clientelism at the political level. However, that depends on the people who manage the television stations, whether they behave politically or commercially," the Executive Director and principal owner of Satel told The Slovak Spectator.
Heldová opined that the Slovak media market is only big enough for two general-interest commercial stations. "Other stations would be able to survive only if they had special types of programming, such as a family cartoon channel or something," she said.
But things might be changing in the media advertising field. The Markíza marketing director said he had already begun to note a positive difference in how advertisers decide which TV station to give business to.
"It's more and more becoming a business matter, when the client only considers what effect will the advertising with a certain media bring to his business," Arpáš said.
Advertising aside, there may be another benefit to having a third station. With more voices on the air, the media scene, which continues to be heavily influenced by politics, will be somewhat better balanced, some politicians and media experts said.
"Media in every country attracts some people who would like to use broadcasting for politically utilitarian purposes, regardless of which political party rules the country at that point," said Ján Budaj, chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for Media and Culture. "The question is whether the political elite in the country will pardon these abuses or sanction them."
Arpáš said that with the new TV Luna and a change in VTV ownership, Markíza will have to work harder to maintain its top commercial position in Slovakia. According to the National Center of Media Communication, Markíza currently covers 75% of the country's soil and is regularly watched by 70% to 90% of the population.
"With the new stations, the situation will obviously be harder for us, but we will still do our best to remain the number one station on the Slovak market. Time will tell whether we will remain on the top," he said.
Markíza is preparing for the competition and is planning to focus its programming more on domestically produced shows during prime time, he said.