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Telepiu, RAI ally for pay TV venture

MILAN — Italy’s sole pay TV group Telepiu announced it is working with pubcaster RAI on a project regarding the launch of digital pay TV thematic channels in Italy.

The announcement signals an important development in Italy’s TV industry: It is the first time the two TV groups have cooperated on a common project.

Until now, the pay TV operation’s links with Silvio Berlusconi’s Fininvest hampered any alliance with Fininvest’s arch-rival RAI. Fininvest founded Telepiu in 1990 and still holds a 10% stake. The rest of the capital is in the hands of Berlusconi partners Kirch and NetHold.

Recently, however, Telepiu has changed its attitude toward RAI: Canal Plus has become a major shareholder in Telepiu through a buyout of NetHold. Canal Plus has always had good relations with RAI and is interested in imposing Telepiu’s digital technology as Italy’s standard.

RAI, meanwhile, is interested in entering digital TV broadcasting, but current regulations do not allow it to sell directly any fee-based service.

“We did meet and discuss with RAI the creation of some channels of news, sports and oldies” (Channel Nostalgia), to be launched in Telepiu’s digital pay TV bouquet, a Telepiu spokeswoman told Daily Variety. She confirmed that recent meetings with RAI’s top executives, including president Enzo Siciliano and director general Franco Iseppi, were attended by Canal Plus’ director general, Michel Tolouze, as Telepiu’s representative.

She denied press reports that Tolouze offered RAI $6 million to develop the first news channel. She also denied RAI and Telepiu executives discussed the sale to RAI of a stake in the pay TV group.

“No broadcaster can be competitive today without entering pay TV broadcasting. We do hope RAI will be allowed to enter this market by the new TV regulations due to be approved by the Parliament in the next few months,” a member of the RAI board, Federica Olivares, said.

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