EUROPEAN MEDIA: Italy - Looking smart. Lucy Aitken investigates howthe nation that brought the fashion world Gucci and Versace hassharpened up its media offering in 2001

The former president of the US, Bill Clinton, will be arriving in

Rome for Italy's first advertising congress in 14 years at the end of

October. For a country where the prime minister owns the country's

biggest commercial media operation, the nature of his visit may not even

come as a great surprise to many Italians.

Silvio Berlusconi, who was re-elected as Italy's prime minister in May,

takes centre stage in the country's media. He owns Mediaset, which is

responsible for more than 40 per cent of all Italian TV and more than 60

per cent of all TV advertising through its sales house, Publitalia.

Mediaset and the public service broadcaster RAI account for an

astonishing 95 per cent of Italy's TV ad revenue as well as 90 per cent

of the country's TV audience.

Along with football, fashion and food, TV dominates Italy - more than 50

per cent of adspend is on the small screen. Italians have their TVs

switched on for about four hours a day and Walter Hartsarich, the chief

executive officer of Carat Italia, does not doubt that TV is close to

the heart of the nation: "Terrestrial TV is enjoying great success at

the moment due to a battle for audience ratings, which has spawned new

programming, such as reality TV shows, new soap operas and variety

performance shows. Big Brother scored ratings of more than nine million

viewers, while some of the new soap operas have pulled in a crowd of

more than 12 million."

TV is expensive for advertisers desperately seeking a decent return on

investment, particularly if they are opting for RAI and Mediaset

channels, which have the attraction - as well as the accompanying

expense - of massive ratings.

But perhaps one of the most significant news stories to break this year

on Italy's media scene is a challenge to Mediaset and RAI in the form of

news channel La7. Owned by the national telecommunications company

Telecom Italia, in which Pirelli and Benetton acquired a controlling

stake at the end of July, La7 aims to target young Italians who are

bored of the duopoly and want fresher content produced in-house.

The real launch of La7 will be in mid-October and experts have toned

down their expectations since the announcement that La7 will be an

all-news network. With Gad Lerner, the respected and impartial former

editor-in-chief of TG1 News, as a frontman for its news show, all the

signs point toward La7's editorial independence. Yet pundits are already

dismissing the station's original targets of capturing an audience share

of 6 per cent as unrealistic.

Currently, the television programmes that are guaranteed crowd-pleasers

are football matches, films (Titanic pulled in massive audiences earlier

in the year) and the news. But any channel showing football will always

have the biggest share of audience. Italy is football mad and must be

one of the few countries in the world which has two daily newspapers

devoted to sport, Stadio and La Gazzetta dello Sport. The latter sells

612,000 and is Italy's biggest national newspaper after Corriere della

Sera, which sells 719,000 copies. La Repubblica sells 645,000 copies and

is just in front of Il Sole 24 Ore (409,000 copies). Local newspapers

have a firm foothold in Italy and have recently seen the arrival of free

newspapers such as Leggo and Metro challenging their readers' loyalty.

As elsewhere in Europe, the new papers target commuters and are

attracting new readers of newspapers in Italy: a young, urban crowd who

have never been that interested in reading a daily newspaper before - in

other words, a dream demographic for many advertisers. Another freesheet

has just entered the fray, this time called City from RCS, the

publishing house behind Corriere della Sera.

Just like its neighbours in Europe, Italy has also felt the effects of

economic slowdown this year, so advertisers are continually on the hunt

for more cost-effective ways of targeting consumers.

One example of this is the outdoor industry. Growth is forecast at 5 per

cent for 2001, boosted by use of posters by candidates in the general

election campaign. Structurally, the medium is changing due to the

arrival of international heavyweights, such as Viacom and Clear Channel,

in Italy, which have snapped up Italian sales houses. The benefits of

international players entering the Italian market are long overdue.

Media planners and buyers are now dealing with just two or three sales

houses instead of 15 or more.

Hartsarich says: "We can already plan poster campaigns for 2002 as the

business is developing very quickly. Creatively, too, we are seeing more

innovation in terms of big posters and painted walls. The forecasts for

outdoor in Italy are better than for any other medium, although it might

not yet be that professionally run."

Eugenio Bona, the managing director of Media Italia, the media arm of

Italy's most established creative agency, Armando Testa (which has just

opened a London office), agrees: "There is quality improvement in

outdoor advertising. Nevertheless,it is polluted by unauthorised


Following the boom of 2000, 2001 in Italy has been subdued. But Bona is

still positive. He says: "Although telecoms and dotcoms have stopped

spending at such a fast pace, FMCG companies are still gradually growing

their investment - a reassuring signal for the immediate future."


What is the brand with the most influence in your country?

Fiat represents not just a car brand but an "icon" associated with the

more established economic centre of power of the country

What has been the most talked-about campaign this year?

Telecom BLU launched a campaign (below), which is an example of creative

uniqueness combined with a clear strategy. And the results in the market

have proved its effectiveness

What's been the biggest surprise hit on TV this year?

A real multimedia event was Big Brother. However, in terms of new

channels, the launch of La7

What's the latest must-read marketing book?

Giancarlo Livraghi's L'umanite dell'Internet (The humanity of the

internet). Not a book about marketing so much but a book about people.

Many marketers found it much more useful than books about marketing

Who is the best media sales team in the country?

Publitalia because it has been able to handle an extremely difficult

period with the minimum of fuss

Which media personality gets the most column inches?

No-one even comes close to Silvio Berlusconi

Who is the most feared person in the industry?

No-one really has the power to be feared

What's the biggest media party of the year?

This year it was the launch of La7 - a three-night event with a

broadcast evening, an evening for the media people and an evening for

the clients

Where's the best place to meet clients?

Always at their offices

What is the biggest single issue facing Europe's media industry?