Da Financial Times del 18/01/2005
Originale su http://news.ft.com/cms/s/f8ab0086-68f5-11d9-9183-00000e2511c8.html

Football tactic puts Berlusconi media role in spotlight

di Tony Barber

Rome - The media empire ofSilvio Berlusconi, Italy's billionaire prime minister, is set to launch a new television product this weekend that could expand its domination of the television market by transforming the way people watch football.

For just €3 ($4, £2), those wanting to see a live game in Serie A, Italy's top football league, can buy a card that lets them follow a match of their choice on digital terrestial television, a new technology partly subsidised by Mr Berlusconi's government.

The cards were put on sale this month at newspaper kiosks and other shops all over Italy, and are believed to have attracted strong interest. The first games available on the new pay-per-view system will be on Saturday and Sunday.

The product is the brainchild of Mediaset, the broadcaster owned by the Berlusconi family, which is regarded by some analysts as the most profitable television group in Europe.

The offer has inevitably drawn attention to the unusual position in which Mr Berlusconi finds himself as Italy's head of government, its wealthiest man, its dominant TV entrepreneur and, last but not least, the owner of AC Milan - one of the country's top football clubs, for which Mediaset owns the digital television rights.

Mediaset's three analogue terrestrial channels control about 44 per cent of Italy's television market, while Rai - the public service broadcaster that is answerable to Mr Berlusconi as premier - controls about 45 per cent.

Mr Berlusconi's political opponents fear that the new football product will give Mediaset a clear advantage over Rai, which failed to bid for digital transmission of football games.

The pay-per-game system also raises the prospect of a battle for viewers between Mr Berlusconi's Mediaset and Sky Italia, a division of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. Until now, football fans who want to watch live Serie A matches have turned to Sky Italia, which shows games on satellite TV.

Sky Italia charges viewers about €50 a month for various packages that combine news, movies and other entertainment with football. Born in July 2003 out of the merger of former rivals Telepiù and Stream, Sky Italia has almost 3m subscribers - having added 700,000 in the past 18 months - and says it does not fear Mediaset's digital television challenge.

But it was partly Mr Murdoch's success in breaking into Italy's television market that prompted Mediaset executives to develop what they call the world's first pay-per-football match digital television system.

What makes the new system revolutionary is that there is no need for fans to sign long-term contracts with the TV company, or pay monthly fees, or use a credit card. Instead, all they need is a digital decoder and some coins in their pockets.

Digital TV is still in its infancy in Italy, with only about 1m decoder boxes sold so far. But industry experts expect a boom in sales in the next two to five years -a trend that may be boosted by the new method of marketing football.

Mr Berlusconi's centre-right government is enthusiastically promoting digital TV, having passed legislation that requires all terrestrial transmissions to go digital by January 2007, and offering subsidies for people to buy decoder boxes.

Mediaset stands to gain from the new system because in June it bought the digital TV rights for three years for Italy's biggest football clubs - AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus. Together, they account for 26m of Italy's 30m football supporters.

La7, a small TV company owned by Telecom Italia, which has less than 5 per cent market share, owns the rights for more humble clubs such as Cagliari, Palermo and Parma.

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