Greece raised 246 million euros ($274 million) on Friday by auctioning four private TV licenses in a marathon bid dominated by shipowners including the boss of the country’s top football club.
“For the first time in the history of the land... rules are applied in the use of broadcasting frequencies,” said government spokeswoman Olga Gerovassili.
State minister Nikos Pappas said the nearly three-day auction -- the first in 27 years -- would set a milestone “in attracting funds to maximise each price in favour of the Greek taxpayer.”
The four 10-year licenses were won by three shipowners and a constructor, the latter considered close to the leftist government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
Infrastructure minister Christos Spirtzis said the final result had “exceeded all expectations.”
The notable newcomer is 47-year-old shipping magnate Evangelos Marinakis, owner of Greek football champions Olympiakos Piraeus and a fleet of 60 tankers and container carriers.
The tender was criticised as heavy-handed for slashing the number of licenses, as eight nationwide channels had been operating until now.
But the government insisted that Greece’s media and advertising market, depleted by the country’s six-year debt crisis, is limited and only viable TV stations should be allowed to continue broadcasting.
As proof of their financial worth, each station had to stump up three million euros ($3.4 million) just to be allowed to join the tender.
Greece’s oldest private channel, Mega, failed to make the cut and was eliminated before the bidding started.
Prominent channels Alpha and Star were also knocked out in the process.
Skai and Antenna, also owned by shipowning families, are the sole surviving members of the previous Greek TV cast.
Skai owner Yiannis Alafouzos also controls Athens football giants Panathinaikos and is already locked in a bitter rivalry with Marinakis over allegations of match-fixing.
Clean up industry
In overhauling private Greek TV, authorities say they want to clean up an industry known for workforce exploitation and rumoured under-the-table deals between media moguls, bankers and influential politicians, while bringing an end to decades of chaotic licensing.
Government officials have noted that ever since private TV broadcasts began in Greece, channels have been allowed to operate on provisional licenses renewed 15 times since 1995.
And a contract for Greece’s digital TV provider was concluded two years ago with just one contestant, they stress.
But critics say the overhaul is merely a ploy by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to replace established TV barons -- who have opposed his leftist Syriza party in the past -- with others more to his liking.
The unprecedented auction saw TV managers and prospective owners locked up in a ministry for three nights under heavy police guard, a process many described as humiliating.
“It was a little like prison,” said Ivan Savvidis, a Russian businessman of Greek origin who took part in the bidding.
Greece’s main journalist union has also criticised the tender which it said will bring hundreds of layoffs.
Greece’s top administrative court later this month will examine requests by several of the channels to annul the process.
The government has said stations that continue to broadcast nationwide without a license will be blocked in three months.