ROME — Italy was one of the first European countries to allow private broadcasters to break up the state’s monopoly on the airwaves in the late 1970s, but it has been one of the last to regulate the results.
On Feb. 28, the Wild West era of pirate broadcasting officially came to an end here after 600 local channels were finally awarded broadcasting licenses in accordance with the 1990 broadcasting law.
Of the 890 applications that flooded Post and Telecommunications Minister Maurizio Pagani’s office, only one in three has left a legitimate broadcaster. The channels that were turned down, according to Pagani, didn’t meet the basic criteria for a license: at least three employees, a daily newscast, a minimum amount of capitalization, an anti-Mafia certificate, (paperwork that’s required for several types of transactions here), and certification that the channel’s owners have no criminal record.
No lists have been released yet of channels that have made it into the ranks of the newly legal and those that will have to close down. Eight national licenses were awarded in August 1992 (Silvio Berlusconi’s three webs, Videomusic , Telemontecarlo, Rete A and the two TelePiu pay-TV channels).
According to Pietro Passetti,president of the Radio and Television Federation , Italy’s six hundred local channels account for one third of the world’s total broadcasters.
But they are probably six hundred of the globe’s tiniest broadcasters — the multitude of channels that dot the Italo peninsula are fighting for a share of an ad market that amounts to about $ 300 million. That gives each channel an average yearly turnover of $ 500,000. According to the data compiled by the Telecom Ministry, only 110 of these channels gross more than $ 800,000 annually, and only 94 have more than 10 employees.
The remaining 500 or so channels get by on an improvised program sked made up of tele-shopping and old re-runs. It’s no secret that there are a lot of channels on the air, but not much to watch. Still, signs have popped up that a local market for syndicated programming is developing. And the long-awaited licensing of local broadcasters should go a long way toward bring stability into the market.
Channels not authorized to broadcast will be shut down by local ministerial offices or the police authorities. But excluded broadcasters have cause for hope. The 1990 broadcasting law is expected to be re-written after the national elections at the end of March.