×

Mediaset Doing Just Fine Despite Berlusconi Verdict

Conviction on tax evasion charges puts Teflon Don on the defensive politically, but leaves his TV empire untouched

Silvio Berlusconi’s conviction last month on tax fraud charges might have seemed like a closing chapter in his long and colorful career. But it was actually just a cliffhanger: There’s lots more drama coming up in the ongoing Berlusconi soap opera, which prominently offers plenty of sex, money, politics, courtroom showdowns and, of course, even more sex.

In June, Berlusconi was found guilty of paying for sex with a minor and abusing his office as prime minister to cover it up. He has appealed the seven-year jail sentence and lifetime ban from public office.

Berlusconi is credited with bringing TV sex to the very Catholic Italy in the 1980s, when he launched commercial service Italo TV, featuring plenty of local T&A to augment Hollywood movies, serials and soaps.

Mediaset recently broke its self-imposed taboo (which had been made in deference to the pope) on getting directly into porn, by launching three “Hot Time” channels on its DTT Mediaset premium pay-TV service.

After nearly 30 trials over more than two decades, the man known as the Teflon Don will appeal the June decision on his sex-and-cover-up charges. If the ruling is upheld, it could signal the end of his political career, but it does not necessarily pose an immediate threat to his Mediaset TV empire.

In fact, analysts at Deutsche Bank upgraded Mediaset stock from “hold” to “buy” a few days after the tax fraud ruling, citing cost-cutting and an upbeat advertising outlook, and downplaying the impact of politics on the bottom line at Italy’s top commercial broadcaster.

In the Aug. 1 tax fraud case, Berlusconi was found guilty of participating in a scheme involving multimillion-dollar Hollywood deals for which Mediaset used offshore companies to evade taxes. That was the third court ruling, and he has run out of appeals.

He was given a four-year sentence, but will serve only one year of either house arrest or community service due to prison overcrowding. Berlusconi, 76, is also likely to be banned from public office for three years.

So is the tide turning for him personally? And is Italy changing its attitudes toward sex?

Pubcaster RAI put a freeze recently on the type of TV titillation that has become synonymous with the Berlusconi name. After airing the Miss Italia beauty pageant for 25 years, RAI cancelled it, with pubcaster prexy Anna Maria Tarantola saying it set “a negative example.”

RAI is the chief broadcasting rival to Berlusconi’s Mediaset, and the cancellation could be seen as a repudiation of his influence.

TV analyst Francesco Siliato said that Berlusconi ushered in a type of TV closely tied to displaying the female body in ways that RAI didn’t dare do at the time. “And now they are becoming more uncomfortable with that again,” he added.

But don’t believe that Italian TV is getting more chaste overall.

Berlusconi’s Mediaset is reportedly in talks to take over airing Miss Italia from RAI. Moreover, many Italian broadcasters are calling this the post-Berlusconi era, and are looking to cash in.

For example, Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Italia paybox service has greenlit a pilot for a talk-reality show titled “Leave It to Rocco” in which global male porn star Rocco Siffredi will counsel middle-aged couples on how to spice up their sex lives.

Maybe Berlusconi could use a similar format for a Mediaset show catering to an older Italo demographic — with himself as the star.

Popular on Variety

More Biz

  • Harvey Weinstein

    Weinstein Can Get a Fair Trial in Manhattan, Says D.A.

    The Manhattan District Attorney’s office argued on Friday that Harvey Weinstein can get a fair trial in Manhattan, and blamed the producer’s defense team for much of the pre-trial publicity in the case. Weinstein’s attorneys have asked an appellate court to transfer the case — which is set to begin on Sept. 9 — to [...]

  • Leonardo DiCaprio Madonna

    Leonardo DiCaprio, Madonna Call for Action on Amazon Wildfires

    As wildfires rage at an alarming rate in Brazil’s Amazon rain forest, celebrities are using their platforms to bring awareness to the deforestation’s impact and to call for action. In the past week, stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Madonna, Cara Delevingne and Ariana Grande have taken to Instagram to express their frustration with the lack of [...]

  • 'The Durrells' TV Show

    Greece Sweetens Production Incentives as Struggling Country's Economy Rebounds

    It’s taken the better part of a decade for Greece to show signs of recovery from the crippling crisis that almost pushed it out of the Eurozone. Now, with the economy slowly on the mend, the government is doubling down on efforts to jump-start the local film industry, giving a dramatic overhaul to the incentive [...]

  • Warner Music Group Partners With Audiomack

    Warner Music Group Partners With Audiomack

    Warner Music Group announced it has entered a partnership with the music streaming and discovery service Audiomack, marking the platform’s first licensing deal with a major label. According to the announcement, the two companies will work together on content concepts and explore ways to break emerging artists, connecting music fans with rising talent before they [...]

  • Scooter Braun Congratulates Taylor Swift on

    Scooter Braun Congratulates Taylor Swift on ‘Brilliant’ Album and Campaign

    Two days after Taylor Swift fired off the latest salvo in her battle with Scooter Braun, the manager congratulated the singer on the campaign around her “brilliant” new album, “Lover,” which arrived last night. The message came after Swift said she will be re-recording songs from her first six albums, which are now owned by [...]

  • David Koch Obit

    David Koch, Libertarian Activist and Billionaire Philanthropist, Dies at 79

    David Koch, brother of Charles Koch and one of the owners of Koch Industries, the second-largest private company in the U.S., has died at 79. According to the New York Times, Charles Koch announced the news of his brother’s death in a statement. Though he did not attribute to David’s death to a particular cause, [...]

  • Beverly Hills Realtor Accused of Stealing

    Beverly Hills Realtor Accused of Stealing From Usher, Adam Lambert

    A Beverly Hills real estate agent has been arrested on charges of stealing from the homes of celebrities, including Usher, Adam Lambert and “Real Housewives” star Dorit Kemsley. Jason Emil Yaselli, 32, is accused of encouraging an accomplice, Benjamin Ackerman, to enter homes during open houses in order to steal from them. Ackerman allegedly sold [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content