June 27, 2018 / 8:32 AM / 22 days ago

Italy's Mediaset plots pan-European broadcasting future

MILAN (Reuters) - Italy’s Mediaset is looking to create a pan-European broadcaster to fend off competition from its traditional rivals such as France’s Vivendi and online content providers like Netflix.

FILE PHOTO: Mediaset's Chief Executive Pier Silvio Berlusconi after a media conference at the company's headquarters in Cologno Monzese, near Milan, Italy, April 8, 2016. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini/File Photo

“A group like ours, strongly anchored to the Italian and Spanish markets, needs to look at a perspective of international growth … in Europe,” Mediaset chairman Fedele Confalonieri said.

Confalonieri told Mediaset’s annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday that forming a pan-European player was “seen as something non-realistic” until recently.

Mediaset, controlled by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s family, began trying to broaden its business in 2016 with an ultimately unsuccessful pay-TV agreement with French media firm Vivendi.

This was seen as a first step toward building a southern European media powerhouse but it fell through when Vivendi unexpectedly backtracked, leading to a court battle.

Mediaset Chief Executive Pier Silvio Berlusconi said the Milan-based TV group was not in talks with anyone on creating a pan-European broadcaster at now, but added it would have a leading role in any moves to do so.

He also ruled out Vivendi as a future potential partner.

Since the failure of Vivendi deal, Mediaset has been rethinking its model, it tuning its strategy to meet the threat of online content giants such as Netflix.

FILE PHOTO: President of Mediaset Fedele Confalonieri arriving at the Italian Business Association Confcommercio meeting in Rome, Italy, June 7, 2018. REUTERS/Tony Gentile/File Photo

In March, Mediaset signed a content-sharing deal with Sky’s Italian unit and in May clinched a deal with Telecom Italia to give the phone group’s customers access to its free-to-air channels from January next year.

Pier Silvio Berlusconi said this month that talks were also under way with Netflix over possible content sale deals.

A FUTURE WITHOUT VIVENDI

Recent deals by Mediaset have isolated Vivendi, which also holds a 24 percent in Telecom Italia and which has repeatedly said it aimed to build a southern European media giant.

There is no love lost between the two rivals after Vivendi pulled the plug on their deal and then made a hostile raid on the Italian firm, taking a 28.8 percent stake.

Pier Silvio Berlusconi said there were no talks underway with Vivendi and the legal row was ongoing. A Milan judge has set Oct. 23 as the next hearing in the case.

In April Vivendi transferred 19.19 percent of its total shareholding in Mediaset to a trust after Italy’s communications watchdog told it to cut its stake in either Telecom Italia or Mediaset to comply with antitrust regulations.

Mediaset closed the doors of its AGM to the trust, preventing it from exercising its voting rights.

The French media group had not presented its slate of candidates for the new 15-member board voted on Wednesday, which will include 3 members representing minority shareholders.

Editing by Mark Bendeich and Alexander Smith

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