Silvio’s surprise bid

Mediaset eyes Telecom Italia TV unit

Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset is a surprise bidder for Telecom Italia Media’s TV unit, the country’s third terrestrial TV player, and its digital terrestrial TV bandwidth, which is being sold separately.

The news has set alarm bells ringing in the country where Mediaset is already the top commercial broadcaster and Berlusconi, a three-time former prime minister, is considering running in elections next year.

Though Mediaset has declined to comment, several sources have confirmed reports that Mediaset has asked Citicorp, which is handling the sale, to examine Telecom Italia Media’s books.

The deadline for the first round of bids is Sept. 24.

Other potential buyers reportedly include Discovery Channel and smaller local media group Cairo Communications, which handles Telecom Italia Media’s ad sales for its two channels, LA7 and MTV Italy.

LA7 in past years has more than doubled its ratings to a roughly 4% average share of Italy’s audience.

Commenting on whether regulatory hurdles would prevent a deal with Mediaset, Telecom Italia Media managing director Gianni Stella was quoted by newspaper Libero as saying: “We are evaluating potential legal and antitrust issues; but laws are not a problem; in Italy they never are.”

Mediaset accounts for roughly 40% of TV ratings and 58% of the country’s TV advertising market.

Enrico Mentana, a former Mediaset news anchor and now news topper at LA7, said he would quit if Berlusconi took over.

“If Berlusconi were to become prime minister again he would control Mediaset, most of (pubcaster) RAI and, with LA7, all the TV news on our free-to-air channels; that might be a bit much,” Mentana said on Saturday.

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