Mediaset, RAI discuss free sat service

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ROME -- Italian broadcasters Mediaset and RAI on Friday opened what were termed "preliminary" discussions that could lead to the launch of a free satellite service that would mirror the two companies traditional terrestrial channels.

The discussions were announced the same day that Mediaset said that a cooperation deal between Mediaset and satellite rival Sky-Italia had collapsed.

A satellite-based deal between Silvio Berlusconi's Mediaset and state broadcaster RAI could give Mediaset access to satellite television subscribers and also siphon some market share away from Sky and its pay TV services. But a Mediaset-RAI deal also would be dependent on Sky, since the service would only be available to viewers who already owned Sky set-top boxes, which would receive the Mediaset-Sky signal free of charge.

The press officers at both Mediaset and RAI were quick to say that the discussions were in their earliest stages and that no financial terms or deadlines had been discussed.

The chances for such an agreement could get a boost this weekend, when Italians go to the polls to elect the members of a new government. If Berlusconi becomes Italy's next prime minister, he also will have indirect control over RAI, meaning he could help push such a deal through.

Romano Prodi, the previous prime minister and Berlusconi's chief political rival, appointed the current RAI leadership.

Discussions of a deal between Mediaset and News Corp. unit Sky-Italia always have been seen as a long shot by the Italian press. But Mediaset pursued an agreement between the two companies as a way to gain better access to Italy's fast-growing satellite television sector.
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