The Slovak digital native media market is a small one. There are several growing projects in the sector, oriented towards a young audience, with well-developed podcasting and video content. Almost all of the bigger outlets offer at least partially paid content, although their main source of revenue is still advertising.
in the Directory
Many of the leading websites in Slovakia are connected to larger media outlets which encompass print and broadcast, many of which are under full or partial oligarchic capture. Therefore, the online space is often a response to this “oligarchisation” – many independent websites have emerged or gained in popularity after changes of ownership in the Slovak media market from for-profit to “for-influence” types of owners.
There is also a growing problem: several media outlets publishing pro-Russian disinformation and conspiracy theories spreading intolerance and radicalisation have grown in popularity. They are not listed in the Project Oasis directory, but they exploit holes in the market with unpaid news, and they force serious media publications to react and counter their disinformation campaigns. This contributes to a growing divide in Slovak society, among ordinary citizens as well as among the political elite.
This atmosphere in society is a growing concern for the safety of journalists, who regularly face verbal harassment online, often from leading politicians. Reporters Without Borders has repeatedly expressed its concern about this. It is especially worrying in a country where journalist Ján Kuciak and his fianceé were murdered in 2018 for his investigative work.
Market structure and dominance
The commercial outlet TV Markíza, which has preserved its editorial independence despite a change of ownership in 2020, is the country’s most influential media outlet, notes Reporters Without Borders.
There have been several changes in media ownership since 2014, many of them leading to growing “oligarchisation” of the media market. Some owners instrumentalise the media to reach their own goals. This problem is a bit less serious than in neighbouring countries (such as the Czech Republic and Hungary); since none dominate the whole media market, pluralism is still maintained.
However, there is one significant player: a group called Penta. This company is known for one of the largest corruption scandals in modern Slovak history, and has interests in several regulated industries (such as healthcare and banking). At the same time, Penta owns the most popular weekly magazine, one of the few Slovak daily newspapers and the most-visited news website (in terms of page views). There have been reports that Penta is also interested in buying TV Markíza. This has not materialised yet, but after the sudden death of the owner of TV Markíza, the question is still on the table. This would be a massive threat for media pluralism in Slovakia.
There is an oligarchic presence in the digital market too, but this is partially mitigated by the presence of several independent news outlets, many of them listed in the Project Oasis directory. For example, Aktuality.sk is known for investigative journalism, and Denník N also has an impact on the Slovak political landscape.
The independence of public service broadcaster RTVS is not fully guaranteed, since its director is elected directly by politicians in parliament, and since its budget is dependent on annual deliberation with the government.
How media is funded
The primary source of revenue for most media organisations is advertising. Many digital media outlets have experimented with various forms of subscription over the last decade, and most journalism-oriented outlets now use a paywall – the reader can access at least part of their content only after payment. However, subscriptions are just a contributing source of revenue, not the main business model for most.
As mentioned, some traditional media organisations stopped being profitable after the financial crisis and the digital transformation, and were sold by international publishing houses to local oligarchs. They can afford to run these media outlets because they earn money in different sectors. Other media outlets repeatedly feel a lack of funding, and often run crowdfunding campaigns or try out new subscription models. There is a lack of funding for non-profit media organisations.
Nine profiles of digital native media organisations from Slovakia are included in the directory.
In the last decade, there have been several changes to the Slovak digital market. Once a leader of the digital market, the daily publication SME has lost its leading position to digital native outlet Aktuality.sk and also to tabloid daily Pluska (owned by Penta). SME has locked most of its content behind a paywall. In contrast, the current online market leader Pluska has no paywall, and inclines towards clickbait content. Aktuality.sk (the only one of the above included in the directory) has significantly grown in popularity since 2015, and has been a leader in the digital market for several consecutive years.
There are more noteworthy developments in the digital native world. First of all, there is a visible growth in websites for the younger generation (aged between 18 and 34). “We are the voice of the young generation,“ state the leaders of Refresher, Gabor Boros and Matúš Baňovič, both around 30 years of age. The websites Refresher and Startitup are also aimed at this demographic, and they have grown significantly over the last few years in terms of revenue, newsroom size, audience and also a network of smaller specialised websites around them. In particular, Startitup is reaching the top 10 of Slovakia’s most-visited websites, and its performance is comparable with the websites of traditional legacy media publications.
The digital native media sector produces a lot of video and audio content. Podcasting and online on-demand video formats have become the norm, and this sector has grown rapidly over the last few years. Digital native platforms also have a significant presence and a lot of content on social media.
In terms of revenue, advertising remains the main source. All bigger players have subscriptions and paywalls, but almost nobody included in the directory listed subscriptions as their primary source of revenue. Their revenue usually comes from a combination of sources, predominantly from advertising and subscriptions. As a supplementary source, these outlets also gain revenue from YouTube, grants, occasional crowdfunding and donations, as well as sales of tickets for events (such as public debates or quiz nights). Many outlets have also started to operate in print. They print and sell books, as well as monthly, quarterly or annual magazines. Denník N also has a daily newspaper (mostly sold to subscribers). There is almost no grant money in the Slovak media market to support independent or investigative journalism. There are just a few grant schemes for minority media or culture-focused outlets.
There has been some collaboration between media organisations in investigative journalism, especially after the murder of Aktuality investigative journalist Ján Kuciak. In subsequent investigations, a lot of information was revealed incriminating many public figures. The information was shared among several newsrooms, and the publication of these information “bombshells” was coordinated in collaboration. However, this project seems to have ended, with all the available information from the case being exhausted.
All of the interviewed leaders say that their main platforms are websites. All of them use social media, but not everyone has a large audience on social media, nor do they gain significant revenue from publishing on social media. In Slovakia, Facebook is by far the most popular platform, followed by YouTube and Instagram. There is very little penetration of Twitter. The only platform that generates revenue for media outlets is YouTube. Slovak digital native media outlets do not use messaging services such as WhatsApp or Telegram to disseminate their news.
Digital native journalism has a positive impact on pluralism and diversity in the Slovak media landscape. Some of these outlets are absolutely crucial for investigative journalism – there would be almost no investigative work done in the country without Aktuality.sk or Denník N. In addition, these digital platforms are an important voice for the younger generation, which is underrepresented in traditional legacy media.
Last updated: January 2023