TS News - Italian Digital Platform Uncertain

TELE-satellit News, 6 July 1997

Italian Digital Platform Uncertain
  ROME, Italy, 97/07/06 (TS) -- In the past few weeks, there have been
several meetings between the principal media companies in Italy and the
French company Canal Plus (who operates the pay-TV network Telepiu) with
the goal of finally reaching an agreement on a single digital platform for
Italy. In short, the deal would see RAI and Stet entering as shareholders
of Telepiu (by taking a 45-51% stake), but this in fact depends on German
media magnate Kirch selling his 45% stake in the Italian pay-TV network.

  There are three important questions to be resolved for a deal to be a
reached. The first is in fact the subscription management of Telepiu which
is currently run by Canal Plus. The Italian state telecommunications
operator in fact views this question as a priority, because in the near
future, other multimedia services besides TV will be broadcast via this
single digital platform. The second thorny issue is who will be in charge
of the package of channels. Both Canal Plus and RAI/Stet want to take
control of the movie rights as well as of other programs. 

  Finally, negotiations are also underway concerning the technological
questions, i.e. the type of decoder (or more precisely the type of
conditional access module), but it seems that it will be easier to reach a
deal on this question. Currently in Europe, on one hand there is the Irdeto
scrambling system developed by NetHold, and on the other hand the Canal
Plus backed Seca system. The recent merger between NetHold and Canal Plus
has only complicated things. The French company has already announced it
will start leasing the Telepiu boxes in which case the Seca system would be
preferred. Unfortunately the current 80,000 subscribers have decoders with
the Irdeto module. 

  In case a deal on a single digital platform is not reached, the two state
owned companies, RAI and Stet have already announced that they will pursue
a path of their own. This could see mean a partnership with the French
digital service TPS which is controlled by the French state broadcaster
France Television.

  The RAI/Stet-Canal Plus agreement would also mean that the existing
broadcasting laws will have to be changed, enabling RAI to operate
(together with other partners) other TV stations besides the three
terrestrial channels it owns. There is also the question whether a digital
platform owned by all the principal Italian media companies would come
under the Antitrust in Italy and in Brussels.

  By: Branislav Pekic
(c)TELE-satellit 1997. All rights reserved.

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