Murdoch’s Stream acquisition uncertain

Olivetti wins control of Telecom Italia

MILAN — The future of the planned Murdoch-Cecchi Gori joint acquisition of Italy’s digital pay TV platform Stream has become uncertain as the Olivetti group won a $65 billion battle Friday night for control of Stream’s only shareholder, Telecom Italia.

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. and Vittorio Cecchi Gori were expected to sign today the final deal for acquisition of 35% and 18% stakes, respectively, in Stream. According to the preliminary agreement inked in April, a further 12% stake was to be acquired jointly by four Italian soccer clubs; 35% was to remain in the hands of Telecom Italia.

But Olivetti’s victory — which follows an intense series of legal and strategic battles between Olivetti CEO Roberto Colaninno and Franco Bernabe, CEO of the telco — will surely delay the agreement or even prevent it, most analysts said over the weekend.

Olivetti did not comment on the Stream deal. During the battle for control of Telecom Italia over the past few weeks, Colaninno maintained that the preliminary agreement with Murdoch and Cecchi Gori was not legal because the telco group was already the target of a takeover.

Olivetti’s successful hostile bid has once again hampered Murdoch’s ambitions in Italy. It is the fourth time that the global tycoon has attempted to enter Italy’s TV market. Twice he tried in vain to acquire Silvio Berlusconi’s TV holdings; most recently, he failed to buy a majority stake in Stream.