Old guard front and center at Sanremo


ROME -- Italian state broadcaster RAI is going with tried and true talent in February's Sanremo festival, the 57th edition of the five-day event that usually dominates Italian television ratings each year.

RAI said Monday that 70-year-old Italian broadcast icon Pippo Baudo will be the event's master of ceremonies for the 12th time in two decades, with a host of singers in their 50s, 60s and 70s. Most are Sanremo veterans and very familiar Italian viewers.

"It's no surprise that RAI is going with very known quantities at a time when the broadcaster is trying to improve the quality of its image and at the same time slow the threat to its market share from rival Mediaset," said media commentator Alessandro Aquari, referring to the private broadcaster controlled by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Speculation in Italy about the lineup for Sanremo -- so well known in Italy that it is simply known as "Il Festival" -- runs high each year.

In the past, the festival has focused on emerging talent and in the 1950s one of its sideline events developed into the famous Eurovision song contest. But in recent years it has become less adventurous and more international.

The talent RAI lines up for each year's festival and the popularity of the event's programming are both considered barometers of what to expect for Italian television during the rest of the year.

Additionally, many companies choose to debut new products with high-priced ads that air during the primetime event.

The closing night for the Sanremo event in 2005 was watched by nearly 80% of Italian households -- still a record for a non-sporting event in Italy -- and the event usually fails to claim the ratings top spot only in years when Italy reaches the World Cup soccer final or semifinal, as it did last year.

This year's festival premieres Feb. 27 and runs for five days.