This article originally appeared in
April 19, 2006
Mediaset gets conditional
OK for mobile TV
By ERIC J. LYMAN
ROME -- Italy's competition watchdog said Tuesday that it has given a
conditional thumbs up to a deal that will give Silvio Berlusconi's Mediaset
networks the technology and frequencies necessary to become the first
Italian broadcaster to provide programming on cellular handsets.
In an agreement reported to be worth €185 million ($228 million), Mediaset
will take control of Europa TV SpA, an affiliate of France's TF1. With access to
Europa's infrastructure, technology and frequencies, Mediaset will launch a
television service available to users of DVB-H-equipped mobile phones.
According to Ministry of Communications figures, only about one Italian
cellular phone in 30 was equipped with DVB-H technology at year's end, but
the number is said to be growing rapidly. Italy is one of the world's most
mature cellular phone markets, with about 72 million active mobile phone
accounts in a country of 57 million.
According to documents submitted as part of the antitrust probe, the service
could be available by the middle of next month -- unless Mediaset elects to
appeal the decision from competition regulators.
State broadcaster RAI is developing a similar service that will launch around
midyear. But the RAI initiative is subject to fewer antitrust concerns because
it is being constructed from scratch rather than via acquisition.
Most of the restrictions on the Mediaset-Europa deal are related to
advertising and access to the network. For instance, Mediaset can't directly
or indirectly sell advertising on the network and can't offer access to
programming to the customer. Both of those areas will be the responsibility
of the cellular phone service provider.
"The authorization for this deal is dependent on Mediaset agreeing to the
conditions set out," a spokesman for the antitrust authority said in a TV
interview. "Compliance will be monitored, and if the terms are not respected,
the antitrust authority retains the right to intervene in the future."
Mediaset officials, who declined to discuss the ruling when contacted, will
have 30 days to either file an appeal or conclude the deal, the regulator said.
Mediaset is the centerpiece of outgoing Prime Minister Berlusconi's massive
media empire. Berlusconi, Italy's richest citizen, was ousted from power in
national elections held last week. Italy's new prime minister, former
European Commission president Romano Prodi, has vowed to take steps
to limit Berlusconi's influence on the media.