Mediaset to launch on-demand Internet TV

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ROME -- Italy's increasingly crowded Internet television sector got another entrant Wednesday, as the country's largest media group, Mediaset, officially unveiled plans to launch an on-demand Internet TV service early next year.

The word from Mediaset comes on the heels of a move by former state telephone monopoly Telecom Italia in September, which said it will shift its focus to providing media content to its broadband customers. Rupert Murdoch-controlled Sky-Italia followed that up by signing a content deal with fast-growing Italian ISP Fastweb. Several smaller companies have announced less ambitious plans to move into the sector as well.

Though the sector is growing quickly, it is still quite small, totaling less than 1% of Italy's 8.1 million broadband Internet customers. But the race to lock customers into long-term contracts as a way of securing market share has begun in earnest.

The arrival of Mediaset could change the landscape. Though the company has a limited Internet presence, it is Europe's largest media group, with three national television networks, several regional radio networks, a major news magazine, a large daily newspaper and a leading publishing house.

But despite its dominant place in the media hierarchy, Mediaset has been suffering from an advertising slump since its largest shareholder, Silvio Berlusconi, was ousted as prime minister earlier in the year. Company officials say a toehold in the new Internet television sector could help offset some of those losses in the medium-term.
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