Next spring, the development of digital terrestrial broadcasting in Italy will enter a new phase, with at least 12 new channels taking to the airwaves. It will be the result of a decision by the Italian communication authority AGCOM requiring three main DTT licence holders to rent out 40% of their capacity to third parties.
The three licence holders, public broadcaster RAI, Berlusconi’s Mediaset and Telecom Italia Media, will be obliged to offer this capacity to organisations that have no links to them. The scenario will demand ‘market prices’ and should last till at least the year 2012.
The move is intended to promote diversity on digital terrestrial – analogue broadcasting in the country has been dominated by RAI with its three channels RAI Uno, RAI Due and RAI Tre, and Berlusconi with Canale 5, Rete 4 and Italia 1. Telecom Italia Media (TIM) became a third, minority player when it acquired the independent broadcaster La7 and the Italian MTV channels, while on satellite Sky Italia is the only player. In order to prevent a similar situation from happening with digital terrestrial, the regulator introduced the enforced sub-let condition to the licences.
The main fare on digital terrestrial is free, with all three broadcasting groups having a wide range of channels available. Alongside this, both Mediaset and TIM have introduced pay-TV. Mediaset Premium acquired live football rights, as well as a number of studio deals. The broadcaster also secured the rights to the Champions League. The offer is split in the Calcio (football) offer and the so-called Premium Gallery offer, which consists of three channels, Joi, Mya and Steel. These channels specialise in movies and first-run TV series from Warner and Universal.
Telecom Italia was not so successful in developing its Cartapiu premium service, which now only consists of a limited number of live Calcio football games sold as pay-per-view (all Italian Series A and Series B games are divided between Mediaset and TIM). Given the fact that Mediaset Premium can promote its products on its analogue channels, which are the best watched in the country, TIM found itself in a very difficult position. Its analogue channel La 7 only reaches an average audience share of 3.1%.
So, the recent news that TIM is selling its PPV business to the Swedish Airplus TV group solves two problems. First, it will give new impetus to its pay-TV business, and secondly, it is an easy way out of the imposed condition of renting out 40% of its DTT capacity.
While it is not yet clear what the programming plans of Airplus TV are, most likely it will put together a bundle of channels, among them Eurosport and Discovery. It will face competition from other Italian versions of international channels such as Jetix, Disney, Turner, NBC Universal and others, which can be offered either free-to-air or as a premium service.
Some of the capacity will also go to regional and local broadcasters. Until now, many small-scale broadcasters have been active with analogue broadcasts, and they will also have to rent capacity on digital terrestrial networks. TIM already rents some parts of its multiplexes to such broadcasters.
With regards to the development of digital terrestrial television, at the moment the island of Sardinia is turning digital. The government approved a timetable to move to digital next year in the areas of Turin-Cuneo, Trentino, Alto Adige, Belluno, Val D’Aosta, Roma and Lazio, Campania and Naples. By 2010, 70% of all Italians will only have access to digital TV.