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Discovery continued to expand its footprint in Italy in 2020, and has cracked the country’s top three networks.

The media giant’s linear channels last year commanded an almost 8% average audience share, up 4% compared with 2019, bolstering its standing as the country’s third free-TV player after state broadcaster RAI and private network Mediaset.

Year-end figures for Discovery’s now bolstered linear success in Italy –– where free-TV viewers grew during the pandemic –– are being released just as the company best known globally as a cable player, is rebranding and re-launching its Discovery Plus streaming service across Europe.

Discovery Plus bowed in Italy on Jan. 6 offering originals such as ITN-produced instant doc “What Killed Maradona?,” which is likely to hit a chord in the country where the late great Argentinian soccer icon’s career peaked. Also on the slate is a new show featuring Italian pop singer and influencer Elettra Lamborghini.

On the linear side, Discovery Italia’s portfolio consists of 9 free-to-air channels: Nove, Real Time, DMAX, Giallo, Motor Trend, Food Network, K2, Frisbee and HGTV. The flagship stations among these are Nove, which features hit political standup comedy show “Fratelli di Crozza” and Real Time, which is the home of “Bake Off Italia.” They came in respectively at number 9 and 10 in the 2020 rankings for Italy’s national channels, according to a Discovery statement.

Discovery’s DMAX factual channel, which targets a mostly male audience with content such as WWE wrestling, its Food Network station, and kiddie outlets K2 and Frisbee, all saw double digit growth from Italian viewers last year, while Discovery Channel was a top performer on Sky Italia.

Of course, Discovery is a distant third in Italy’s still duopolistic terrestrial TV arena, where RAI in 2020 accounted for an overall 35% share with Mediaset close behind, accounting for a 32% portion of the year’s total average ratings.

Meanwhile, subscribers grew by a whopping 45% in 2020 for Discovery’s non-linear channels in Italy, which comprise Discovery Channel, Discovery Science, and Eurosport 1 and Eurosport 2, available on Sky, besides its standalone Dplay Plus service, now rebranded as Discovery Plus.

“We are now ready to tackle 2021 with great impetus,” said Laura Carafoli, Discovery Italia’s head of programming and production, who in the statement underlined that the Discovery Plus launch in Italy complements its “extraordinary linear channels offerings and unique [market] positioning.”