Sky Italia Pulls Out Stops for First-Ever Upfronts

James Murdoch
James Murdoch
 Francois G. Durand/Getty Images

MILAN – Italian satellite broadcaster Sky Italia unveiled the highlights of its upcoming season Monday, including more than 300 first-run movies, 330 television series, more than 3,000 sporting events and special channels dedicated to superheroes, Harry Potter and 007.

The 10-year-old News Corp. subsidiary pulled out all the stops for its inaugural upfront event held in Italy, with live music, high-tech video presentations, and a smattering of local celebrities for more than 600 advertisers, journalists, and other observers.

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Among those on hand for the event were Formula 1 team manager Flavio Briatore (at the event in his capacity as the host of Sky’s Italian-language The Apprentice Italia), soccer great Paolo Rossi (the star of Italy’s 1982 World Cup winning team, on hand to introduce the broadcaster’s soccer coverage) and James Murdoch, son of News Corp. founder Rupert Murdoch, whose many titles within the company include being president of Sky Italia.

The younger Murdoch spoke only briefly, near the start of the event, noting with pride the company’s rapid rise to become one of the giants of Italy’s television sector in a single decade.

“When Sky started operating July 31, 2003, many people thought it was a bad idea to invest in the Italian television sector, but we saw it differently,” he said, noting that News Corp. has invested at least €10 billion ($13.2 billion) in the company since 2003, more than half of it on content and technology.

“The best has yet to come,” Murdoch concluded, in what ended up being the evening’s catch phrase.

But despite staying in the spotlight only briefly, speakers kept mentioning his name throughout the 140-minute presentation (including a question to Briatore about what kind of person would succeed in the next season of The Apprentice Italia: “I’d take James Murdoch,” Briatore said).

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Among the highlights of the presentation held at Milan's Franco Parenti Theater:

• New developments with Sky Cinema, including a Gomorra series inspired by author Roberto Saviano, the writer behind Matteo Garone’s 2008 Cannes jury prize-winning Mafia drama of the same name; Romanzo Criminale, based on the popular 2005 film by Michele Placido; and the establishment of new channels dedicated to James Bond and superheroes.

• Sky One, the company’s entertainment section, which in the upcoming season will feature half a dozen original productions, four experimental programs and five new television serials.

• Television series, including new seasons for the Italian versions of The X Factor, Master Chef and The Walking Dead (Gale Anne Hurd, executive producer of The Walking Dead, was on hand for the evening, where she promised the fourth season of the series would include “new and unique ways to make zombies more gruesome").

• Sky Sports: The company revealed it would have exclusive (for Italy) around-the-clock coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and complete coverage of next year’s soccer World Cup in Brazil (including exclusive Italian coverage for around half the games). Formula 1 racing and motorcycle grand prix races will also be a priority.

Starting from the fusion of money-losing satellite broadcasters Stream and Telepiu in 2003, Sky has grown to become one of the three dominant forces on the small screen in Italy, along with state broadcaster RAI and Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset.

Twitter: @EricJLyman

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