Mediaset’s set for bump in ad sales during 2004

Co.'s units Publitalia, Publiespana see sales rise

MILAN — Mediaset, Italy’s largest private broadcaster, boosted first-quarter advertising sales by as much as 12%, indicating 2004 will be “very positive,” CEO Giuliano Adreani told shareholders Tuesday.

Sales at Mediaset’s Italian advertising sales unit, Publitalia, rose 8.1% from the same period a year ago, Adreani said.

Sales at its Spanish ad company, Publiespana, rose 21.6%. Group revenue from publicity gained between 10% and 12%, he said.

“We’re out of the tunnel,” Adreani said after the annual shareholder meeting at Mediaset’s Milan studios. “The advertising market is recovering. I’m very optimistic that 2004 will be another very positive year.”

Global advertising spending is set to rise 4.7% this year to $342.5 billion, recovering from a three-year slump, according to a Zenith Optimedia Group study released in December. Italian ad sales dropped in 2001 and 2002 before gaining 3.3% last year, market researcher AC Nielsen said.

Last year Mediaset upped advertising sales in Italy by 6.5% to $3 billion.

Mediaset, which is controlled by the family holding company of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, runs three free-to-air television channels that compete with the three national stations of state-owned RAI.

Together, they control about 90% of TV viewership and advertising in Italy. As head of the government, Berlusconi also indirectly influences management at RAI.

The company also owns 52% of Spanish broadcaster Telecinco.

Mediaset shares gained 17¢, or 1.8%, to $11.47 in Milan, giving the company a market value of $13.6 billion. The stock has added 30% in the past year.

Mediaset may also seek to buy radio stations to boost its audience and sales, chairman Fedele Confalonieri said during the meeting. But he declined to reveal more details.

A proposed media law being reviewed by the Italian parliament would allow Mediaset’s parent company, Fininvest, to boost revenue by as much $2.4 billion, Confalonieri told analysts last month.

That law would expand antitrust limits on the amount of the media advertising market any single company could own and would allow cross-ownership of media outlets.

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