Two tyke channels beat out incumbents

ROME — Proving that Italy’s digital terrestrial rollout is starting to open up the playing field, emerging TV player Switchover Media’s free-to-air kidvid channels have edged past offerings from incumbents Mediaset and pubcaster RAI.

Switchover’s K2 and Frisbee topped the tyke TV ratings with a combined 7.1 average audience share in January. They have held on to that top spot despite fierce free-to-air competition from Mediaset’s Italia 1 and Boing as well as RAI’s Yo Yo and Gulp on DTT. K2 and Frisbee also top pay TV offerings from Disney, Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network.

“The digital terrestrial rollout is bringing new opportunities in the free TV market for the first time in two decades,” says Switchover topper Francesco Nespega. He adds that the success of the channels exceeds expectations in a competitive market where openings for new players had been limited.

Rome-based Switchover came into being in July 2009 when Nespega led a management buyout of Jetix Italy, Disney’s worldwide children’s TV programming brand, where he had been managing director since 2003.

The buyout team snapped up Jetix’s K2 and male-skewed general entertainment channel GXT, which airs on News Corp.’s pay TV platform Sky Italia. Nespega stayed on at Jetix until it rebranded as Disney XD.

K2, aimed at 4-14-year-olds, is the only kids’ channel available on every commercial platform, including Sky Italia. Its top shows include “Pokemon” and the animated “Mr. Bean.”

It bowed at the start of Italy’s gradual migration from analog to digital, which kicked off on the island of Sardinia.

“Today we reach two-thirds of the country’s TV homes, and by 2012 we will reach the entire kiddie population in Italy,” Nespega says.

In July, Switchover bowed femme-skewed Frisbee, upgrading its content in December. Top shows are “Pucca,” “W.I.T.C.H,” and “The New Addams Family.”

Adding Frisbee to its channel lineup means Switchover can increase ad sales and leverage its position for merchandising and licensing deals connected with its content, Nespega says.

In the meantime, there are similar, smaller DTT success stories in Italy, such as Discovery’s Real Time, which launched six months ago.

And with the government set to hand out more bandwidth for DTT this year, the TV market continues to open up.

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