PRAGUE — A government-friendly bidder, PRO TV, passed the first hurdle in the contest for the privatization of STV2, the nationwide channel currently operated by pubcaster Slovak TV.
The Slovak Council for Radio and TV Broadcasting approved the PRO TV proposal, and passage by the Slovak parliament later this month is thought to be a fait accompli. The council is composed largely of members appointed by the ruling government coalition headed by Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar.
The vote leaves Scandinavian Broadcast Systems (SBS), seeking a spot in the budding Slovak market, out in the cold. Also bidding for the channel were Central European Media Enterprises (CME), currently represented in Slovakia with TV Markiza. CME recently issued a report stating that TV Markiza had been the fastest of its group of TV stations to achieve profitability.
SBS, along with Chemapol, a major Czech conglomerate with media interests, had been aligned with Slovak producer Rudolf Biermann.
Speaking with Daily Variety about the results, Biermann said, “It’s a very scandalous decision.” He referred to the council chairman’s statement that Slovak financing behind the PRO TV bid was the deciding factor, saying that it went in the face of free market practices and calling it untrue, citing Austrian majority ownership of the largest investor, a pharmaceuticals firm.
Members of the opposition have pointed to next year’s elections as a reason for the government to back the PRO TV bid, although a representative of PRO TV denied any political bias. After parliamentary approval, PRO TV would have one month to respond and would be obliged to begin broadcasting within one year, presumably just in time for the elections. Slovak TV is to begin transmitting STV2 via satellite at the start of 1998.
PRO TV plans to operate as TV Dovina, reaching 95% of the Slovak population. Among those reportedly involved in PRO TV are Koliba Film Studio chief Vladimir Ondrus, Milos Mistrik of STV, Rudolf Trella of pro-government cable broadcaster VTV, and Fedor Flasik, head of government-linked Donar Advertising.
Biermann estimated necessary capitalization of the new channel at 900 million Slovak crowns ($28 million), though other reports place PRO TV’s investment at over $30 million. That still puts it behind TV Markiza’s capitalization, which was closer to $35 million. The broadcast license fee will reportedly cost $67, 000.