Telecom Italia, RAI pact for 2nd platform

MILAN — Telecom Italia approved a preliminary agreement Thursday with pubcaster RAI that would create a second digital TV platform in Italy. One platform has already been launched by pay TV operator Telepiu.

If RAI and Telecom finalize their agreement, Italy will join France and Spain in having more than one digital system.

This second Italo platform will have a French ally, the digital consortium TPS, dominated by French broadcaster TF1. TF1′s owner, the Bouygues Group, is already a partner of Telecom Italia. The Cecchi Gori Group will also be involved in the Telecom/RAI platform.

Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset (10%) and Canal Plus (90%), the French pay TV giant, are partners in Telepiu.

RAI and Telecom Italia said that their alliance in digital TV will be open “both in terms of new partners and technology.” The two groups will operate in the digital TV field through two joint ventures.

The first is NewCo, a company set up to provide TV programs in which RAI will have the majority and Telecom a smaller stake. The Cecchi Gori Group is expected to buy a minor stake.

The second joint venture, which will be controlled by Telecom Italia with RAI as a minority shareholder, will operate the digital platform with an investment of 2 trillion lire ($1.1 billion) over the next three years.

At the moment it’s unclear if Stream, Telecom Italia’s multimedia unit and the country’s only cable TV operator, will be charged with the operation of the platform. Stream is expected to launch its first digital satellite thematic channels in May, and has a long term programming deal with Universal.

Both RAI and Telecom Italia have newly appointed boards that are more market oriented and aggressive than previous ones, and fear that a delay in the launch of digital platforms would give Telepiu an excessive lead over the other broadcasters.

Telepiu is so far the only pay TV digital operation in Italy with more than 200,000 digital subs.

RAI has no pay TV channels but during the last year has launched its first three thematic satellite channels, which are free of charge. That move enabled the company to reach important international partnerships.

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