Minister of Post & Telecommunications Oscar Mammi announced last week that Italy will have 15 national networks after broadcasting licenses are awarded between late February and August – 12 new licensees plus the three RAI webs. That means Italy alone will have more national, terrestrially beamed webs than France, England and Germany put together.

Local channels will be reduced from about 1,000 to 700.

Italy’s new tv law, passed last August after years of political bargaining and unregulated competition, will put some order into what was long referred to as “the Wild West of tv broadcasting.” But Italy’s broadcasting scene remains an anomaly when compared with that of its European neighbors.

The ministry reports receiving 20 applications for national licenses and an incredible 1,444 applicants for local licenses. Mammi did not specify which 12 of the country’s 20 applicants for national licenses would receive them.

Though slightly “trimmed down” by the new law, Italian tv still offers Italo viewers a choice of free channels that couch potatoes in other countries can only dream of. But how so many licensed channels can survive economically is uncertain.

At the moment there are seven on the air that can be considered national: the three RAI channels; Silvio Berlusconi’s three Fininvest webs, Italia 1, Canale 5 and Rete 4; and private web Tele-Monte Carlo, owned by Rede Globo and Ferruzzi.

RAI, Fininvest split 90%

The combined webs of RAI and Fininvest account for 90% of the tv audience, leaving the remaining 10% to be divided among the legions of local webs, minor national webs and specialty channels like Videomusic. Skeptical observers doubt whether the ad market can support eight additional national webs (many of them already broadcasting, but without a national license) in addition to the above-mentioned seven.

“How can nine national channels and all those local stations attract advertisers with the 10% of audience left over from RAI and Berlusconi’s six networks? They can’t. Unless they decide to aim for a very specific target like fitness nuts or rock fans . .. like the niche targets that the cable channels and network programmers go after in the States,” observed one Fininvest exec.

Tele Monte Carlo marketing director Renato Stregoni agreed. “The only thing for certain is that there isn’t enough advertising to support all those national channels, especially since national broadcasters are prohibited from using local ads.”

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