Mediaset expands digital domain

Italo regulators gives thumbs up to Canale D purchase

ROME — Italy’s anti-trust regulator has given the go-ahead for Mediaset to acquire local channel Canale D, in a move that will expand the digital domain of the Silvio Berlusconi-controlled web.

Mediaset purchased Canale D — formerly Home Shopping Europe’s Italian channel — in March from Milan media fund Convergenza for a reported Euros 104 million ($125 million), stating it intends to use the terrestrial frequencies to launch its second multiplex of digital terrestrial TV channels.

Deal required approval by the Anti-Trust Authority in order to be finalized.

Lately the leading Italian commercial broadcaster has been beefing up its DTT operation big time.

In January, Mediaset stung Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Italia — Italy’s single satellite TV player — when it began selling soccer matches on DTT in pay-per-view, using a unique scheme that involves prepaid cards allowing clients to watch a single match for Euros 3 ($3.6).

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 — a network of between four and six DTT channels — will greatly enhance Mediaset’s digital premium capability, giving it more outlets for its growing soccer service. Furthermore, having additional channels will also allow Mediaset to start offering movies in digital PPV, to the benefit of sister company Medusa, Italy’s top film production and distribution outfit.

Mediaset’s rival, pubcaster RAI, also operates two DTT multiplexes, but all of its digital content is free.

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

Yet the number of Italo homes equipped with digital decoders is expected to double by year’s end, according to a Merrill Lynch estimate.

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