TV & film producers, consumer orgs criticize move
MILAN — Italy’s antitrust body said Friday that the much-ballyhooed merger between Italy’s debt-ridden pay TV channels Telepiu, owned by Vivendi Universal, and News Corp.’s Stream will be temporarily blocked, while the watchdog completes its inquiry into the deal.While most observers believe the watchdog’s final verdict will be positive and the merger will go ahead, a growing chorus arose in the past few weeks criticizing the creation of a single digital platform with total dominance of the national pay TV market. Critics include TV and film producers, soccer clubs and consumer groups. Stream lost $360 million and Telepiu $200 million in 2001, and the two platforms have fallen deeper into debt every year, largely due to the high cost of soccer rights. The antitrust watchdog nixed a merger attempt last year that would have given Vivendi U 75% of the new company and News Corp. 5%. Stream has about 800,000 satellite and cable subscribers. Telepiu has 1.8 million.