Three’s a crowd

CGG no rival to Italian pubcasters

ROME — Inching ahead with his long-in-gestation plans to create a third pole in the Italian television sector and to challenge the duopoly of pubcaster RAI and commercial competitor Mediaset, Vittorio Cecchi Gori has announced a substantial increase in the programming of in-house productions on his TMC and TMC2 webs.

While acquisitions have remained a low priority since the Cecchi Gori Group’s entry into the TV arena in 1995, the new push into low-cost production hints that CGG will represent even less competition to RAI and Mediaset in the buying department.

Cheaper programming

A group spokesman headed for the Mip-TV market told Daily Variety recently that CGG will continue looking for documentaries and animation but that other types of programs are too expensive, and that TV movies now have been dropped from the shopping list.

TMC and its sister web have been slow to develop a recognizable identity and have consequently struggled to go beyond a 3% to 4% market share. The increased production activity is an attempt to change that, assuming a programming style similar to that of a public service network.

“Italy’s three main private channels have become increasingly institutionalized, while the public networks have moved further away from their role,” said Cecchi Gori Television Group president Biagio Agnes. “That leaves us a difficult, complex but necessary role to fill as a third television pole.”

Starting in the spring, the TMC networks will air eight to nine hours per day of live in-studio productions, focusing on subjects such as health, beauty and style, home and living, sport and finance, as well as youth culture magazine shows. These will complement the generalist talkshows, news and sports programming that already are a TMC staple.

New Rome facility

The Cecchi Gori Group’s main TV production facility currently is in Florence, but the outfit recently acquired a Rome facility which will become operational later this year. Despite previous announcements, plans to move into more exportable genres such as TV drama have not advanced.

Since his acquisition of the two webs, Cecchi Gori, who is Italy’s leading film producer, has repeatedly pointed to his extensive film library as his principal TV resource. But after more than two years of activity, that resource has still not been brought fully into play.

Saving some plums

Plum CGG features have invariably been sold to rival webs able to generate greater advertising payoff. Only now has Cecchi Gori begun to save some big guns for his own channels, recently announcing TMC free-TV premieres of “Pulp Fiction” and “Rob Roy.”

Despite the uncertainty regarding the launch of a digital platform in Italy, Cecchi Gori stresses that he will not be shut out of the country’s fledgling digital market and that he is moving ahead with plans for 10 thematic channels. But industry sources are skeptical about the short-term feasibility and content demands of such a grandiose project.

Potential U.S. investors

Cecchi Gori reconfirmed plans to increase synergy between CGG and U.S. companies, stating that negotiations are continuing with a potential American investor. It remains unclear, however, whether the U.S. interest in CGG is in its film or TV division, or in the entire group.

“When the negotiations are concluded, I will announce the name of this partner,” Cecchi Gori said. “I believe we are getting close.”

He underlined that he is seeking a professional not a financial partner, which indicates an investor from the entertainment sector. Cecchi Gori also revealed that similar deals will follow his recent successful bond issue through Merrill Lynch, which was secured by the group’s film library. The same strategy reportedly will be applied to Cecchi Gori’s Fiorentina soccer team.

(Cecilia Zecchinelli in Milan contributed to this report.)

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