Italy restricts advertising on Sky Italia

Airtime for commercials to fall from 18% to 12%

MILAN — The Italian government rubber-stamped a decree on Monday that will force satcaster Sky Italia, a key rival to the Mediaset broadcast group owned by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, to reduce the amount of advertising it broadcasts.

By 2012, the maximum proportion of broadcast time allowed for spots will fall from 18% to 12%, according to the decree.

Analysts say the rule will hit Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Italia harder than its main pay-TV competitor; Mediaset’s Premium Gallery service does not carry more than 12% advertising at any time of the day as yet.

The plan had already been slammed by opposition MPs, who said it called into question the Berlusconi government’s impartiality when dealing with broadcast matters. Democratic Party MPs were unimpressed Monday by a report on national news agency Ansa that Berlusconi abandoned the Cabinet meeting while the media rules were being approved in order to avoid a conflict of interest.

Communications minister Paolo Romani said the move to limit advertising had been made in viewers’ interests.

Sky declined to comment on the development. However, Andrea Scrosati, vice president for corporate communications at Sky Italia, said in January that the plan to limit advertising would limit growth in the pay TV sector, not just for Sky Italia but for all the other operators, Italian and foreign.

One leading analyst, Augusto Preta of Rome-based IT-Media Consulting, predicted however, that in the medium term, Sky Italia looked likely to maintain its dominance of the Italian pay TV sector.

The decree also contains restrictions on Internet broadcasting. Google and others complained when it first became clear that the Italian government planned to step up policing of online content.

Ministers say, however, that a watered-down version of the rules will introduce a form of licensing rather than the feared systematic checks and censorship. Details of this re-worded version were not yet available, however, as i>Variety /i>went to press.