ROME – Italian commercial broadcaster Mediaset on Monday launched Ad4Ventures, an innovative fund devised by executive VP Piersilvio Berlusconi that will offer free TV spots to local and international digital startups in exchange for equity stakes.

It’s the latest initiative at the European media group, which is trying to come up with a new gameplan after posting its first annual loss in 17 years.

The Italo and Spanish broadcaster’s diversification into digital follows last week’s news that it will launch three porn channels on its Mediaset Premium DTT pay TV channel.

This breaks what was considered a taboo for company founder and owner Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s former three-time prime minister, who faces an imminent verdict on charges he paid for sex with an underage escort.

Based in Milan and Madrid, Ad4Ventures is being touted as a way to prevent new digital ventures in Italy and Spain from either folding or being absorbed by foreign investors due to the economic crisis.

Eligible ventures must be high-potential companies in mid-stage aimed at expanding consumer and retail markets. The ads and a marketing strategy on Mediaset stations will be given in exchange for equity stakes or revenue sharing.

“We can only come out of our recession with a strong push towards innovation: this is true of all companies and especially those in the media sector,” Berlusconi junior said in a statement.

Meanwhile, in another sign of Mediaset’s changing business model, bids are expected this week for leading local exhibition loop The Space Cinema, co-owned by Mediaset and clothesmaker Benetton. Gaul’s Pathe and the U.K.’s Odeon UCI are among reported contenders.