Move linked to switchover

ROME — Mediaset is launching two free digital terrestrial channels — one dedicated to movies, the other to vintage Italo TV shows — in a move being touted as instrumental to Italy’s digital TV switchover.

The Silvio Berlusconi-controlled top Italian commercial web unveiled its two new digital stations at a Rome presser attended by communications minister Paolo Gentiloni, who announced that Italy will start banning the sale of analog TV sets in 2010 in order to introduce digital sets and decoders in the country’s TV homes, ahead of the planned 2012 switchover deadline.

“This is the start of a new offer of free TV content in Italy and proof that the digital era does not mean just pay TV, but rather an enrichment of free content available to everyone,” Gentiloni said.

Of the two new Mediaset offerings, the movie channel called IRIS reps a true novelty for Italy where films are currently being ousted in primetime by local drama on free TV slots.

IRIS will air 18 hours daily of mostly movie fare comprising a rich mix of classic Hollywood titles ranging from “The Graduate” to “Malcolm X,” international auteurs spanning in time and style from Orson Welles to Lars Von Trier, plus lots of classic Italian pics from old giants like Federico Fellini to contempo masters like Bernardo Bertolucci and Giuseppe Tornatore.

Italian theater and opera, and also programs about literature, will also air on IRIS, which looks on paper like a minor cultural revolution for this country.

IRIS will start airing Nov. 30.

Mediaset’s other new free digital terrestrial channel is called BIS and will basically recycle the best of the web’s past shows, interspersed with news updates. BIS will start airing in the spring of 2008.

Mediaset already has one free digital terrestrial channel in operation, a successful kiddie station called Boing, which is Italy’s fourth-rated digital channel after three satellite pay TV stations operated by Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Italia.

Federico Di Chio, head of Mediaset’s digital TV division, said both IRIS and BIS will be competing with Sky Italia offerings.

Italy currently lags behind most of its neighbors in terms of digital TV penetration, with digital decoders in just 26.3% of the country’s 22 million TV homes.

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