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No. 32: Mediaset

Milan, Italy

Revenue: $2.146 billion

Profit: $385 million

Silvio Berlusconi not only won Italy’s May elections to again become prime minister, but the media mogul was further allowed to maintain control of his empire, Mediaset.

For years, Berlusconi has been dogged by conflict-of-interest claims, which he faces as (majority) owner of the nation’s largest broadcasting company as well as now being de facto chief of Italy’s public broadcaster RAI as part of his responsibility as national leader. In the wake of the election, a forced sale of Berlusconi’s media holdings was averted — at least for the time being.

During the drawn-out political battle and in recent months, Mediaset has strengthened its position over pubcaster RAI in terms of audience share and revenue. Flagship channel Canale5 led the Italian ratings race through most of the 2000-20001 season, beating RAI1 for the first time in five years, with a 24.7% share overall and 25.8% in primetime.

Mediaset revenues in 2000 rose to 4.57 trillion lira ($2.146 billion), as did net profits.

Led by Berlusconi’s son Piersilvio and a small group of faithful managers, including prexy Fedele Confalonieri, the group has started banking more heavily on inhouse production of TV drama and reality shows, including “Grande Fratello,” the Italo version of “Big Brother,” which was the TV coup of the season with its final episode share exceeding 60%.

“Digital interactive services will be the future, but our three free TV channels will remain our core business, the rest is just an additional territory,” Confalonieri said, confirming Mediaset’s strategy to focus on free TV and stay away from pay TV.

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