Mediaset, Ben Ammar to lose out

ROME — In a blow to Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset and some other TV players, Italy is forging ahead with plans to sell its digital terrestrial TV frequencies, scrapping its previous so-called “beauty contest” that would have assigned new channels for free.

“I do not think we should give away the frequencies,” industry minister Corrado Passera said Thursday, announcing that details for the DTT sell-off will be unveiled by April 20.

Under the “beauty contest,” established when Berlusconi was prime minister, Mediaset had been in pole position to nab two of the free slots.

Current Italo prime minister Mario Monti suspended the process in January, saying the frequencies should generate revenue for the cash-strapped government.

Italy’s Mediobanca merchant bank estimates their value at some €1.5 billion ($1.9 billion). A previous auction of DTT bandwidth to mobile phone operators raised $5.3 billion.

Earlier this month, Mediaset took legal action challenging the Monti government’s decision, claiming that it had already made big investments under the previous process and would now incur substantial damages.

Franco Tunisian mogul Tarak Ben Ammar, who owns the much smaller Prima TV, which had applied for the free frequencies, has also reportedly written to the government lamenting that changing the DTT ground rules would cause economic damage to his company.

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