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Ads slow, rates fall at Mediaset

Company's nine-month net profits down 4.4%

MILAN — When media-mogul Silvio Berlusconi swept back into power in April to become Italy’s prime minister for the third time, pundits predicted a golden period for his Mediaset TV empire.

The financial crisis has put the lie to that notion.

Last week Mediaset announced that nine-month net profits were down 4.4% to e355.8 million ($453.2 million) from 2007. And the company did a U-turn on its former prediction of an overall net profit rise in 2008.

Significantly, the results show the economic climate is hurting ad revenues. Their growth slowed to 1.6% in the first 10 months from 2% in the first nine months; two-thirds of Mediaset’s revenues come from domestic advertising.

The last thing Mediaset needs is to further weaken ad revenues by losing viewers.

Unfortunately, industry experts and even Mediaset executives say a series of dubious decisions has led to falling ratings and the cancellation of much-hyped new series.

Flagship Canale 5 channel’s share of the peak evening audience this fall has tumbled from more than 20% to just 15% this year.

Exhibit A: “Crimini bianchi” — a cynical hospital drama that sought to capitalize on the string of high-profile medical malpractice cases Italy has seen recently. It debuted in September on Canale 5 before plunging ratings saw it transferred to Italia Uno — only to be shelved by the end of October.

“Bianchi” producer Pietro Valsecchi admitted the series was a “spectacular flop.”

The medical sitcom “Medici Miei” was another patient Mediaset couldn’t save. One Mediaset scriptwriter told Variety he thought “Medici Miei” was one of the worst shows he’d ever seen.

And it’s not just curtains for medical-themed fare. Last month, the plug was abruptly pulled on new variety show “Fantasia,” which also had been panned.

Mediaset’s director general of content, Alessandro Salem, says new types of programs always entail risks.

“We’re accused of not experimenting, of doing the same thing, well this time we launched new titles and the public didn’t respond,” he says.

But broadcast expert Fabrizio Perretti of Milan’s Bocconi U. says Canale 5 is failing to take account its younger target audience; Canale 5 audience has proportionately nearly twice as many 15- to 34-year-olds as Rai Uno, for instance.

“Canale 5 has failed because it’s offering programs that just aren’t right for its viewers,” Perretti says.ends

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