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News Corp. Subsidiary Now Reported to be Interested in Telecom Italia Media Asset Sale

DOWN: Rupert Murdoch

The Italian unit of Hong Kong mobile phone giant Hutchison Whampoa and the Discovery Channel are considered the favorites in the field of 14.

ROME – The field of bidders for Telecom Italia Media’s television holdings is getting more crowded, with local Italian media reporting that satellite broadcaster Sky-Italia, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., is reportedly interested in joining a field that now includes at least 14 companies.

By some measures, Sky-Italia is already Italy’s largest broadcaster, though in terms of overall viewer hours and in advertising revenue it still trails Silvio Berlusconi’s film and television giant Mediaset. But Sky-Italia lacks a presence in the country’s shrinking but still large free-to-air broadcast sector.

Media reports said that Sky-Italia is only interesting in acquiring Telecom Italia Media’s flagship network, La 7, and not in its other holdings, which include MTV-Italia, plus a multiplex broadcasting infrastructure.

Mediaset and mobile phone company 3-Italia, a subsidiary of Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa, are reportedly among the company’s reported to be interested in acquiring all of Telecom Italia Media’s television assets, along with private equity fund Clessidra; Spanish toll road operator Abertis; EiTowers, an Italian telecommunications tower operator; and Italian software company LT Media.

Telecom Italia ad buyer Cairo Communications and the Discovery Channel are reported to be interested in only acquiring La 7 and MTV-Italia. And Sky-Italia is the only company reported to be interested in just La 7, which is the smallest of Italy’s seven national diversified television networks. Another unnamed bidder is reported to be interested in buying only MTV-Italia.

So far, the favorites appear to be 3-Italia and Discovery Channel.

Through La 7, Telecom Italia Media is one of only three companies operating a national free-to-air network in Italy, along with Mediaset and state broadcaster RAI, which run three such networks each. Cash-strapped RAI has not been reported to have interest in any of Telecom Italia’s Media’s holdings.

Mediaset would likely face intense antitrust scrutiny if it acquired the television assets of Telecom Italia Media, since Mediaset’s position in the free-to-air broadcast sector is already dominant. But newspapers reported Tuesday that Mediaset might not be looking to win the bidding but rather to drive up the price for whoever wins and, possibly, to make the process less attractive to German group Bertelsmann.

The deadline for non-binding offers is Sept. 24, with a follow-up round to take place at a later date.