Discovery Communications has acquired Italy’s Switchover Media, a rapidly growing local player that has four free-to-air channels and one pay TV channel, making Discovery the third-largest Italo TV player in terms of audience share.

The buy shakes up Italy’s static TV landscape, dominated by pubcaster RAI and Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset.

Discovery was already active in Italy with free-to-air DTT stations Real Time and Dmax, plus Animal Planet, its global flagship Discovery Channel and three others, on Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Italia satellite platform.

“Italy is a leading market for Discovery and key to our growth here over the last two years has been the development of a successful free-to-air TV business strategy,” said Dee Forbes, president and managing director of Discovery Networks Western Europe.

Discovery’s femme-oriented Real Time, launched in 2010 and male-skewed Dmax, launched in 2011, are respectively seventh and ninth in terms of ratings within their target auds in Italy.

“The acquisition of Switchover Media adds further breadth and scale to that free-to-air strategy, as well as diversifying our portfolio to include scripted crime and children’s programming that have proven popular with audiences and advertisers,” Forbes added.

Switchover Media, which was launched in 2009 by Francesco Nespega, operates successful kiddie channels K2 and Frisbee on DT, provides male skewed GXT to Sky Italia, and in 2012 launched scripted crime channel Giallo, and factual channel Focus.

Nespega said, “I am confident that an international leader in the media segment, such as Discovery, with its contents and resources, will be able to further expand the potential of the channels we created and implemented.”

Discovery now manages six free-to-air and six pay TV channels in Italy. The combined business will be overseen by Milan-based Marinella Soldi, managing director of Discovery Italy and general manager for Southern Europe. Rome-based Francesco Nespega will serve as a consultant and advisor to Discovery.