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Sky Italia to invest $55 mil in local pix

Funds mark return of pay TV coin in Italy after two years

ROME — Italian movies will get a e50 million ($54.5 million) boost this year thanks to Rupert Murdoch-backed paybox Sky Italia.

Monday’s announcement marks the return of pay TV coin in Italy after a two-year hiatus. Sky Italia will invest the coin acquiring and co-producing pics.

While the sum is roughly half the budget of a Hollywood blockbuster, it represents a hefty investment for the Italian industry.

Telepiu, the Vivendi Universal paybox that Sky Italia has absorbed, had been investing just $20 million yearly in local cinema before it was hit by cash flow problems.

Sky Italia stems from the long-in-the-works merger of Telepiu and Murdoch’s smaller paybox Stream. Launched July 31, it is now Italy’s single pay TV service.

“Italian cinema is a key element of our satellite platform,” said Sky Italia managing director Tom Mockridge, adding that some of the coin will also be earmarked for shorts and docus.

While Italy’s independent film community has worried that having just one pay TV operator may impact its financial resources, it has also been eagerly awaiting this announcement, which comes amid a long drought of funding from TV, terrestrial as well as pay.

“We are thrilled about Sky’s plans,” said Gianni Massaro, head of Italy’s motion picture association Anica. “The investment shows good will and deserves respect.”

Details of Sky Italia’s investment plan are still sketchy, but distributor Medusa, a unit of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Fininvest, will be a prime provider to the platform. At this stage, it is unclear how much the indies will benefit. It is also unlikely that Sky Italia will establish its own production unit.

Sky Italia will invest in some titles that qualify for the country’s film subsidies and will start a training program for young talent called Sky Lab.

“I am especially pleased by the commitment to fostering new talent and job opportunities in cinema,” commented Culture Minister Giuliano Urbani.

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