Deal to allow RAI content on Web

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ROME -- Italian state broadcaster RAI will, for the first time, allow its original programming to be downloaded and viewed from its Web site, following an agreement reached Friday with the Ministry of Communications.

Such a move had been under discussion for several years, but the ministry had previously balked out of concern that providing Internet access risked cannibalizing RAI's TV market share.

The change comes amid plans to dramatically transform RAI from a traditional broadcaster that owns three national terrestrial networks to three autonomous companies.

Under the plan, RAI would be split into three entities, including one that would control the transmission of all three networks. That company would have a contract with the other two companies: one of which would operate two commercial-free networks funded by tax money and license fees, with the other controlling a commercial network funded by ad revenue.

Furthermore, one of the three RAI networks will switch to digital by 2009 and the other two will join three years later.

The move also comes as several companies -- notably former state telephone monopoly Telecom Italia -- look to become more important media players by providing original television content online.

The RAI deal means that the network will follow a model it says was pioneered by the U.K.'s BBC by allowing some original programming to be available on the broadcaster's Web site with a delay. The first programs are expected to be available online by the end of January.

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