Berlusconi's Mediaset to appeal decision

The European Commission cleared the way on Tuesday for Rupert Murdoch’s pay TV satcaster Sky Italia to muscle in on Italy’s digital terrestrial TV market — where arch-rival Mediaset, owned by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, already runs a lucrative paybox.

Mediaset said it would appeal the decision.

The EC decision reversed a 2003 competition ruling that barred Sky Italia from expanding into free-to-air DTT before 2012, because of its dominance in the pay TV market.

However, the subsequent emergence of Mediaset’s Premium Gallery paybox appears to have changed the equation in the EC’s mind.

With the EC verdict announced, Italo broadcast regulator Agcom can now start accepting bids for the five digital frequencies being offered, one of which Sky is hoping to obtain.

Tom Mockridge, chief exec of Sky Italia, said: “We are obviously very happy with this decision. If Sky Italia is successful in its DTT bid, the Italian consumer stands to gain once again, as do potential advertisers.”

Some analysts are not convinced that Sky Italia has much to gain from the DTT channel.

“I really can’t see why they’ve done all this lobbying,” Deutsche Bank TV analyst Alessandro Bai-Badino said. “They already have the Cielo terrestrial channel operating through the Espresso multiplex.

“Even if they win a bid, they’ll have a channel that’s competing with their own satellite pay channel. And they’ll be annoying Mediaset, RAI and everyone else, but maybe that’s the point. Or maybe, after a poor last quarter with declining subscriber numbers, they had to show News Corp. they were doing something.”

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