Italo gov't looks to monetize licensing process

ROME — Italian commercial broadcaster Mediaset has taken legal action to revoke a government freeze on assigning DTT licenses, just ahead of the release of its fourth quarter results, expected to show a sharp operating profit drop.

Mediaset, controlled by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, has filed an appeal with the Lazio region’s administrative court against current prime minister Mario Monti’s decision to suspend for 90 days Italy’s so-called “beauty contest” in which digital TV frequencies were to be handed out for free. Mediaset was in pole position to nab two of the slots.

The Monti government suspended the process in January, saying it wanted to see whether it could monetize the system set up when Berlusconi was in power.

Mediaset’s move comes just ahead of its latest financial results, due on Tuesday.

Mediaset chief exec Giuliano Andreani said earlier this month he expected fiscal 2011 net profit at around $263 million, down $200 million on 2010.

Mediaset CEO Fedele Confalonieri recently warned that the harsh economic climate had pulled Italy’s TV ad market down to 2002 levels, and added that layoffs are likely.

Mediaset’s legal action over DTT licenses and Confalonieri’s alarm cry over possible pink slips are clear indications of how hard Mediaset is lobbying to maintain its dominant position despite holding less political sway.

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