Gentiloni pledges TV competition

New rules to open Italian market

ROME -- Italy's television sector is on the verge of becoming a lot more crowded, according to Minister of Communications Paolo Gentiloni, who said he believes at least four significant new players will rise up by 2012.

Italian television is currently dominated by two main companies: state broadcaster RAI and Mediaset, which is controlled by Italian media tycoon and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The two companies combine to control more than 90% of the Italian television market.

But Gentiloni said he believes that over the next "five to six years" the sector will be divided among as many as six major players.

"The days of Italian television being dominated by a duopoly are limited," Gentiloni said in comments that appeared in Monday's edition of daily newspaper Corriere della Sera. His office confirmed the remarks.

Gentiloni said the changes in store will be the result of a series of government-sponsored reforms and the development of new technologies.

The minister predicted that, by the end of the decade, most major players in the Italian TV sector will compete in three digital platforms: terrestrial, satellite and cable. He said the new technologies will make it easier for new companies to get involved in the sector.

One reform already passed will require both RAI and Mediaset to transfer one network each to entirely digital programming by 2009. The freed-up analog frequencies will be auctioned off and could help form a significant new operator.

Other frequencies currently owned by Italy's Ministry of Defense could also be sold off, Gentiloni said.

Lastly, proposed antitrust rulings could cap what any one company can earn in advertising revenue, freeing up as much as ?500 million ($604 million) in annual ad sales that could help bankroll new operators. The figure could be even higher if a proposal to reorganize RAI -- so that two of its networks are virtually advertising free -- gets pushed through.