Sky Italia broadcasts competition show to subscribers

ROME — Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Italia recently became the first platform to beam music talent contest “The X Factor” live exclusively on pay TV — a key step in the satcaster’s growing involvement in local production.

Underscoring Sky Italia’s trailblazing effort, the Italo finale on Jan. 5 was broadcast in 3D, another global first, with more than 1 million of the paybox’s 5 million subs glued to their sets.

“X Factor,” a top Twitter topic in Italy, generated 772,000 votes from its live audience during the finale, nearly as many as Italy’s top-rated “Sanremo Song Festival” drew over five nights in 2011 on pubcaster RAI.

“X Factor repeated on News Corp.’s free-to-air digital TV web Cielo.

“For ‘X Factor’ all over the world, (its) big strength is (that) its an event for a collective audience,” says Andrea Scrosati, Sky Italia’s VP for programming and promotions. “But we proved that you can take this format, which is undoubtedly conceived for generalist TV, and make it a big success on pay TV — and certainly not as a niche show.”

In terms of ratings, the previous four Italo “X Factor” seasons pulled in more than twice as many viewers (an average of 2.6 million) on RAI-2, where the show was considered an underperformer.

But these days, one-time ratings are not such a key factor.

“Scoring 1,050,000 live spectators for the finale (among) Sky’s subscribers makes ratings metrics a whole different ballgame,” says Aldo Grasso, TV critic for newspaper Corriere della Sera. “It forces a rethink of the way we gauge TV consumption.”

Grasso noted that with repeats on various News Corp. outlets, including Cielo, and availability on tablets and other mobile devices, the Italo show likely doubled its viewing numbers. Social media, such as Facebook, also helped widen the fanbase.

The thousands of early EP and single-song sales on iTunes for music featured on “The X Factor” are much higher than in the past, especially for “Distratto” (Distracted), the original ballad belted out by 16-year-old Francesca Michielin, who won a recording contract with RCA Sony Music.

Sky Italia has also been breaking new ground as the key link of a new multiplatform distribution model adopted by popular former RAI talkshow host Michele Santoro and his show “Servizio pubblico” (Public Service), launched after Santoro was booted off RAI following friction with then-prime minister and media mogul Silvio Berlusconi, whose political position gave him sway at the pubcaster.

“Servizio” now airs jointly on three Sky channels, local feevees and on the Internet.

Since emerging as Italy’s lone pay TV player in 2003, Sky has unquestionably raised the bar for local production while luring more Italians away from RAI and Berlusconi’s Mediaset commercial channels.

In 2005, Mediaset launched its low-end Mediaset Premium pay TV service, prompting Sky to beef up its local programming, on which it spent $171 million in fiscal 2011. On Dec. 25, Sky scored stellar ratings on its Sky Cinema channel for locally produced Christmas telepic “Un natale per due.”

In drama, Sky, in tandem with production companies Fandango and Cattleya, is developing a TV series adapting Matteo Garrone’s hit mafia movie “Gomorrah.” Helmer Paolo Sorrentino (“This Must Be the Place”) is in advanced talks to act as showrunner and direct the first episode.

Rather than adopting the classic 50-minute episode format, the skein’s production model envisions a series of six 90-minute telepics that can also stand alone — an innovative run for Italy.

Proving its penchant for local crimers, in March, Sky Italia will air a high-profile self-produced two-parter “Faccia d’angelo” (Angel Face), starring Elio Germano (“Our Life”) as quasi-mythical Italo mobster Felice Maniero.

Steve Clarke in London contributed to this report.

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