Mediaset inks major deals with Warners, Uni

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ROME -- Hollywood is quietly raising a big "salute!" to Italian broadcast giant Mediaset as both Warner Bros. and Universal recently inked rich programming deals jointly worth more than $1 billion -- about $160 million a year to Warners and $110 million annually to Universal over the next four years.

The two deals suggest that Italy may be stepping up its outlays for American product, having in recent years fallen noticeably behind upticks seen in other key European territories.

Spokesmen for Warner Bros. and NBC Universal's international TV arms confirmed the deals with the broadcaster after Mediaset referenced the Hollywood purchases in a statement Tuesday that outlined the company's financial results. Net profits for the quarter increased to €341 million ($471 million) from €333 million a year ago.

Although Mediaset did not outline details of its latest big studio deals, insiders suggested that they involve exclusive four-year rights to broadcast new movies and TV shows produced by the two studios as well as selected content from each studio's archives, adding thousands of hours of programming and exclusive access to many top films.

Local media in Italy reported the overall deals to be worth $1.1 billion, while Corriere della Sera specified that they were for a four-year period.

Spokesmen for both studios would only confirm that the deals existed but declined comment on the reported dollar figure.

Upcoming Warner-produced and -distributed series such as "The Sarah Connor Chronicles," "Pushing Daisies" and "Gossip Girl" are understood to be included; NBC Uni's supply will include the new "Bionic Woman," "Life" and "Lipstick Jungle."

The media giant owned by opposition leader and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will get all TV rights under the deal, including pay rights to new studio product and some library stock. Piersilvio Berlusconi, Silvio Berlusconi's son, who runs the company, has indicated that he hopes to increase revenue from content because of a decline in the advertising market.

The company's financial results, released after market close Tuesday, were in line with expectations, showing first-half net revenue of €2.1 billion ($2.9 billion), up 4% compared with the same period last year, with profits up almost 8% year-on-year to €700 million ($959 million). The company's shares surged in the morning but ended the day up just a tick, 0.15% at €7.58 ($10.38).

One area in which expenses were virtually unchanged compared with 2006 was funding for acquisitions. That clearly will not be the case in the second half, when Mediaset's recent acquisition of content producer Endemol and the costs associated with the Warner Bros. and Universal deals will appear.

At least one of the local Italian reports said that Mediaset could elect to on-sell some of the rights for platforms where it does not have a significant presence, such as the pay TV arena dominated by News Corp. unit Sky Italia.

In addition to the Endemol acquisition this year, Mediaset in July took the reins of film distributor Medusa, which had been a separate part of the Berlusconi empire.
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