Italian money heads towards television

Silvio Berlusconi is slashing Italo arts funding once again in an apparent repeat of the TV mogul-turned-premier’s past m.o.

But this time around — it’s the third conservative government headed by the Mediaset owner — Italy’s arts community isn’t that incensed.

That’s because bizzers approve of the way Berlusconi’s culture czar Sandro Bondi is spending taxpayers’ coin.

In late February Bondi inked an agreement to launch an Italo version of the Arte channel, the venerable Franco-Teutonic cultural web headed by Jerome Clement. Though details are still sketchy, the move is an answered prayer for such leftist intellectuals as Bernardo Bertolucci who had long bemoaned the absence of Arte on Italy’s trash-packed airwaves.

Bondi has also earned praise lately from top Italo film industryites by trying to push through film production tax credits that will offset government cuts being made in the country’s sometimes-parasitic film subsidies.

“It seems to me that with Bondi, things aren’t going badly,” says Riccardo Tozzi, prexy of the producers body within Italo motion picture association Anica.

All told, Berlusconi’s cash-strapped government has nearly halved its 2009 subsidies for film, theater, opera and concerts, down to a total of some $470 million — about $90 million of which is for film.

The usual chorus of complaints is being drowned out, however, by a national debate over how to better fund the arts. Echoing a growing camp, bestselling author and tyro helmer Alessandro Baricco (“Lesson 21″) has proposed scrapping subsidies for opera, music and theater and instead beaming more culture on TV or investing more toward arts education in schools.

“Let’s stop financing lavish chamber music lineups. With the savings we can provide one evening a week of TV programming that thumbs its nose at TV ratings,” he provocatively suggested.

The need for quality TV is perceived as pressing in a land where pubcaster RAI dukes it out with Mediaset by pitting “The X Factor” against “Big Brother.”

Italy’s media watchdog recently warned RAI that it will slap a $100 million fine on the pubcaster if it fails to implement a complex indicator called Qualitel to gauge the quality level of its programs in line with its public service mandate.

Proving that homegrown culture can win, RAI’s “Puccini” biopic bested “House” on Mediaset last week .

But the most popular show on RAI so far this year has been the Sanremo Song Fest. While scoring a massive 40%-plus share five nights straight last month, it still lost RAI some $1.8 million compared with its ad intake.

Incidentally, a sidebar to Sanremo saw Neapolitan crooner Mariano Apicella singing “Ma se ti perdo” (“If I Lose You”), a bossa nova number penned by Berlusconi. The duo’s third album is due out this spring.

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