Digital deal in Italy

Local players, Canal Plus OK single platform

MILAN — After months of laborious discussions, all the major Italian media companies — RAI, Mediaset, Telecom Italia and Cecchi Gori — and the French pay TV company Canal Plus announced Friday night they had finally reached an agreement on a single digital platform for Italy.

According to the crucial agreement, the Italian partners will have the majority stake in the digital platform. Until very recently, discussions seemed bound to fail, as Canal Plus was not ready to give up majority control.

New alliance around 2 firms

The new TV alliance will be formed around two companies: pay TV network Telepiu, currently 90%-owned by Canal Plus; and Stream, the multimedia unit of state-owned giant Telecom Italia, in which pubcaster RAI has a 15% stake. All allies will enter both firms with different stakes.

Telepiu will keep all its terrestrial analog activities, including its two pay-TV channels, which currently have 900,000 subscribers, and will be controlled and managed by Canal Plus, with a stake of at least 45%. The Italian partners will enter with minor stakes still to be determined.

All Telepiu’s activities in digital TV will be absorbed by Stream (or a new company that will include Stream), in which Telecom Italia will have 40%; RAI, Mediaset and Cecchi Gori 10% each; and Canal Plus 30%. The new Stream will broadcast via satellite or cable the channels supplied by all its partners, including Telepiu premium channels, and will manage all digital pay TV subscribers in Italy (currently about 140,000).

Both companies will be open to new shareholders, the companies said in a brief release. Recently, Italy’s antitrust authority showed some concern that a single national digital platform would give its partners a dominant position in the market. With a platform open to all players, the antitrust authorities should not intervene, sources close to the media firms said.

“It has been very tiring, but at the end of the day we found a solution, creating two different facilities. At the same time, this agreement will guarantee the French that their interests will be respected and will give the Italians a strong position” in the digital platform, deputy minister for TV and telecommunications Vincenzo Vita said.

According to Vita, who has been closely involved in negotiations, Canal Plus “finally understood that Italy’s government pressed for a single national platform because in our country it is the only perspective in economic terms and investment-wise. The government made the French understand that without an agreement, all the Italian partners would have gone ahead without them.”

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