News Corp. paybox links up for Italo pix

ROME — Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Italia and Sky Italia are teaming up to become a prominent Italian production force via their new local production unit, which intends to finance as many as a dozen local films a year when fully operative.

With Sky Italia in its first profitable quarter — two years after its launch — the News Corp.-owned paybox and Fox’s Italian distrib are looking to generate homegrown film and TV product to feed its channels, seven of which are dedicated to movies.

“We want to establish a real significant presence in Italy, not just as a broadcaster, but also as a content provider,” said Osvaldo De Santis, the Fox Italia and Sky Italia exec appointed in July to oversee the nascent joint-production operation.

While details such as financing and slate are being kept under wraps, De Santis described Fox’s investment entity as “considerable.”

The Fox Italia production topper said he would be happy to assemble three to five projects a year en route to reaching an average of eight to 12 pics annually.

Besides making Fox the U.S. major most involved in Italo production, output of that quantity would place Fox on a scale comparable with RAI Cinema and Medusa, the film units affiliated with general entertainment webs RAI and Mediaset, respectively, Italy’s major audiovisual industry forces.

Warner Bros. has financed two or three Italian films per year for the past couple of years. Sony Pictures Entertainment recently made its first foray into local production with steamy teen pic “Melissa P.”

“As I see it, Italy is the most important European territory for News Corp. after the U.K.,” De Santis told Daily Variety at the Venice Film Festival.

Two years after its launch, sole Italian paybox Sky Italia has 3.3 million subs and 3,400 employees.

Fox Italia’s first slate will be announced in a couple of months.

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