Italo politico pulls RAI privatizing plans

IPO had been fast-tracked by Gasparri

ROME — Italy’s new communications minister, Mario Landolfi, has abandoned plans to partially privatize pubcaster RAI.

Rothschild and Italo investment bank UniCredit had been prepping the IPO since December. They aimed to float 20%-30% of the pubcaster by the end of the year.

IPO had been fast-tracked by Landolfi’s predecessor, Maurizio Gasparri, under a media law pushed through Parliament in 2004 and meant to make RAI more accountable to the market.

But perhaps prompted by the pubcaster’s management crisis, Landolfi told Italo financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore on Wednesday that “RAI’s flotation is a road we cannot travel, because the broadcaster’s history is too deeply entwined in politics.”

The three-channel web is tangled in political spaghetti after Parliament earlier this month rejected the appointment of state administrator Andrea Monorchio as RAI prexy. Pols can’t agree on another candidate for the ailing pubcaster’s top post.

Meanwhile, Italy’s antitrust regulator has given commercial broadcast group Mediaset the go-ahead to acquire local web Canale D, expanding the digital domain of the company controlled by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Mediaset purchased Canale D — formerly Home Shopping Europe’s Italian channel — in March from Milan media fund Convergenza for a reported E104 million ($125 million).

It wants to use the terrestrial frequencies to launch its second multiplex of digital terrestrial TV channels.

In January, Mediaset stung Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Italia — Italy’s single satellite TV player — when it began selling soccer matches on DTT on pay-per-view, using a unique scheme that involves prepaid cards allowing clients to watch a single match for $3.60.

The soccer matches are beamed on Mediaset’s existing multiplex — which comprises six channels, including BBC World and kiddie station Boing — in partnership with Turner Broadcasting.

Having a second multiplex with between four and six DTT channels will give Mediaset more outlets for its growing soccer service and for PPV movies, to the benefit of sister company Medusa, Italy’s top film production and distribution outfit.

Italy has unrealistically set January 2007 as the date for its transition to DTT. Despite government incentives to speed up the sale of DTT set-top boxes, there are just over 1 million digital decoders in the country’s roughly 20 million TV homes.

That number is expected to double by year’s end, according to a Merrill Lynch estimate.

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