'Brother,' exclusive soccer big draws for pay TV service

MILAN — Italy’s beleaguered pay TV operator Stream — controlled equally by Rupert Murdoch and former telco monopolist Telecom Italia — expects to reach the break-even point within 18 months after drawing 650,000 new subscribers with “Big Brother,” exclusive soccer and other hits.

In an interview with Reuters during a visit to London to meet Murdoch, newly appointed Stream CEO Lucia Morselli said that in a year and a half, the pay TV service will double its sub count to about 1.3 million and will finally stop losing money.

“We will break even at a lower number of subscribers than our rival Telepiu,” Morselli said.

Morselli, a former exec at Canal Plus-backed Telepiu, did not rule out eventually listing Stream on the stock market but added that the company had “to mature first.”

Stream broadcasts more than 100 channels and has exclusive rights to Champions League soccer. In 1999, it posted a loss of 458 billion lire (about $200 million) on sales of $87 billion. Its financial problems are a thorn in the side of Murdoch, who plans to transfer his 50% stake in the company into his new satellite TV unit, Sky Global Networks.

Since July, Stream and Telepiu have been involved in a fierce battle against Italy’s telecom regulator, which wants the two operators to use a joint decoder capable of receiving signals from both of them.

But Stream and Telepiu refused to introduce the joint decoder, claiming that soon they will have to introduce new boxes for interactive TV.

The regulator is due to meet on Thursday to rule on the issue.

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