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Italy to get mobile TV in time for World Cup

But is it two systems or one?

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This week, Silvio Berlusconi's Italian broadcasting empire Mediaset and Europa TV finalised their agreement, set at the end of last year, to sell broadcasting infrastructure and spectrum for the Mediaset imminent launch of a DVB-H network.

The two companies received regulatory and merger authorisations allowing Elettronica Industriale, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Mediaset, to go ahead and buy the spectrum for $238m.

What baffles us is just how Mediaset intends to introduce the service. Is it going into competition with 3 Italia, which has promised to launch its own network using spectrum acquired when it bought Italy's Channel 7, or is it going into partnership with 3 Italia?

Over the past year Mediaset has announced deals with Telecom Italia Mobile, H3G and Vodafone. H3G is of course just another name for 3 Italia with the H standing for Hutchison Whampoa, the parent company of 3. Between these it is pretty much all of the local market for mobile operators. Sure there are other operators, but with Telecom Italia and Vodafone at one and two in the market, this is quite a hefty chunk of all mobile customers.

Mediaset also says it is pursuing contacts with other operators and that it wants to provide an open, mobile TV service. What appears to be happening is that both Mediaset and 3 Italia have bought spectrum for the job of creating a mobile TV service in Italy, but Mediaset continues to include H3G and vice versa, in many of their respective announcements.

Perhaps they are planning to run apparently competing networks, but will put content across both of them that makes them more or less the same. Certainly, Mediaset content is included the 3 Italia services.

The other option is that the two spectrum chunks are combined into one service. That way far more channels could be offered space on the service and it will act as a big obstacles for anyone else entering the market.

Each broadcaster might own its own channels going over a technology and service neutral network. The build out could then be spread across the country evenly, in order to get one merged service to market carrying multiple TV channels from different broadcasters.

Both companies have said they will be out in time for World Cup coverage and that they will carry World Cup coverage, which starts on June 9, and they can't both build a national network in a couple of weeks, so build out must have been going on, anticipating the regulatory environment, for the past six months.

Either way, given the proximity of spectrum between the two services, any extra radio tuner placed in any handset is likely to be able to receive both services anyway.

H3G has said its service will start with 20 TV channels rising to 30 in 2007, and 40 in 2008, and for that it sound like both sets of spectrum will be required given that with DVB-H, up to 16 channels have been tried out in a single 8MHz slice of spectrum, so at least twice this spectrum will be needed for the amount of channels anticipated.

Europa TV, is controlled by Holland Italia, in turned owned by Tarak Ben Ammar and the French broadcaster TF1. The deal has been completed "pending necessary authorisations" which had better come pretty soon if the World Cup is going to be the driver to sell these phones.

This move is described as non-exclusive in nature and Vodafone was previously said to be working with government TV operation RAI, which is now part of this set up, as is Sky Italia.

Italy could set a blueprint for European use of DVB-H, assuming the competition authorities do not block or later reverse these negotiations, whereby a consortium pays for the spectrum and builds the network and then offers carriage to multiple TV channels on an unbundled and unbiased basis. If so, this is a rather similar model to how the Finnish service is being brought to market.

3 Italia is calling its service Walk TV, and said two weeks ago that it would offer it on LG Electronics and Samsung handsets, in 3 Italia's 5,000 shops, from about now. It is also creating its own programming with a channel called La3 Live and La3 Sport, and it will charge either €3 per day, a monthly charge or €99 for six months.

At the 3 Italia launch the only mention of Mediaset was the fact that it would offer a channel and that its exclusive European Champions League content would be offered on the service.

Copyright © 2006, Faultline

Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

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