Italy's San Remo Music Fest Gets Underway With Big Viewership Numbers

Media tycoon and political candidate Silvio Berlusconi said the popular event should not have been held during election season.

ROME – Italy’s 62-year-old San Remo Music Festival got underway with its traditional high ratings  -- and just a touch of political controversy.

San Remo, the five-day event on state broadcaster RAI that is traditionally the country’s most-watched non-sports television broadcast, started out with high ratings even by its own standards. Figures released Wednesday showed that 47.6 percent of Italian television viewers -- 14.2 million people -- tuned in for opening night Tuesday. It was the highest prime time audience share for a program since last summer’s European Championship soccer tournament.

The San Remo programing is also popular in other European countries. 

The political controversy emerged when comedian Maurizio Crozza, known for a dead-on interpretation of Italian media tycoon and three-time prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi. Crozza’s impression sparked cries of “no politics!” from the crowd. 

Crozza’s performance drew 8.1 million viewers, but earned a 53.4 percent share because it was late at night, with fewer televisions turned on.

For his part, center-right candidate Berlusconi said in January that the San Remo festival should not be held before the country’s Feb. 24-25 elections for fear it could influence the vote, and he criticized the selection of left-leaning commedian Fabio Fazio as the program’s presenter.

But after the festival started, Berlusconi predicted the critical attention paid to him in San Remo would actually help him close the gap between his campaign and that of Pier Luigi Bersani, the center-left candidate leading in the polls. 

Berlusconi controls Mediaset, the broadcast and cinema giant that is the chief rival of San Remo broadcaster RAI.