Film industry mogul Andrew Vajna’s Magyar Broadcasting Company signed a contract to buy commercial channel TV2 from TV2 Media Group Holdings last Thursday. A few hours later, however, Lajos Simicska’s business partner Károly Fonyó announced that they had already purchased the network on Tuesday.
Fonyó also told the news portal Index that they had fired former owners Yvonne Dederick and Zsolt Simon for signing a contract with Vajna without the authorisation of the company’s current owners. Fonyó is a known business associate of billionaire businessman Lajos Simicska, a long-time confidante of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
Simicska and Orbán, however, had a serious falling out this year as a result of which the companies of Simicska – which include road construction firms, a daily newspaper and news channel hírTV – saw a significant decline in state orders.
Meanwhile Vajna held a press conference in the afternoon and announced that he had asked former head of RTL Klub Dirk Gerkens to become the TV2 group’s new managing director. Vajna said he wanted TV2 to become the leading commercial channel in Hungary and to attract as many viewers within a year or two as the channel had after its launch.
He declined to reveal the planned cost of changes but said he would review with Gerkens the current programming structure and identify what should be kept and what should not.
Vajna said he would not give up his post as government commissioner for the development of Hungary’s film industry. Based on consultations with his lawyer, there is no conflict of interest between the two positions he will hold, he added.
Dederick and Simon, who are also managing directors at the company, will stay in their posts until the transfer is carried out, which will take around six weeks, and after that the new managing director will decide whether to keep them, Vajna said.
Gerkens, who left his post at competitor RTL Klub this spring, said it cannot be excluded that some staff would be brought over from RTL Klub. Dederick and Simon said the channel had been put on a growth path with a new management structure and careful financial leaders in the past year, faster than expected.
They said buying the media company was a good investment and the new owner will acquire a well-functioning company on stable footings. The new owner would continue to provide sound financial grounds for TV2.
Dederick and Simon bought TV2 from ProSiebenSat.1 in December 2013. The group raised its revenue by nearly 1.5 billion forints to 17.6 billion forints in 2014. It ended 2014 with EBITDA of 958 million forints, in the black for the first time since 2008.
When this edition of The Budapest Times went to press, it was still unclear who the new owner of TV2 actually is. When making the announcement, Fonyó noted that he expects lengthy legal battles, as their agreement was a “complex contract, but legally we are talking about a purchase”. Neither Simicska nor Fonyó have made a statement since.
The news portal Origo speculated that when ProSiebenSat.1 sold the channel to Dederick and Simon it may have been Simicska who signed a guarantee that the loan used for the purchase will actually be paid back. The businessman could have done so for an optional right to buy the network at a pre-determined price.