Ad-free RAI net back on table

Sandro Bondi envisions culture-focused channel

ROME -- Italian Minister of Culture Sandro Bondi said he wants to resurrect the previous government's plan to make one of the three national networks run by state broadcaster RAI completely ad free.

In a column published in Friday's edition of daily newspaper Libero, Bondi said that, with the growing popularity of digital television signals, there is more room for non-commercial programming. Among his plans, he said, is to turn one of the three RAI networks into a ad-free alternative free that could focus on culture.

The plan to drop ads from one RAI network was originally floated by Paolo Gentiloni, who was minister of communications during the previous government, led by former European Commission president Romano Prodi. But it was dropped when Prodi's government collapsed last year.

Gentiloni's plan could have made things more difficult for Mediaset, the broadcast giant controlled by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, as it would have limited any single broadcaster from owning more than 45% of the total ad market. With only two of three RAI networks selling ads, the overall ad market would have diminished, forcing Mediaset to scale back its ad sales to stay under the 45% limit.

But with no limit on ad sales, Bondi's plan could prove to be a boon for Mediaset, which has suffered with an eroding ad market in recent months. With one less network available for advertisers, the remaining national broadcasters -- three Mediaset networks, the two remaining ad-driven RAI networks, plus Telecom Italia's La 7 -- would each get a larger slice of the market.