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Viacom ups Italian ambitions with FTA push

ViacomViacom International Media Networks (VIMN) has acquired an Italian digital free-to-air (FTA) frequency in order to launch Spike locally, and a 50% stake in kids channel Super!.

One agreement, with Scripps Networks Interactive, will see Viacom acquiring the LCN 49 frequency ahead of launching male-skewed Spike in Italy by the end of October.

The other deal sees Viacom take a 50% stake in kids FTA network Super!, which De Agostini Editore (DeA) has solely owned to this point.

The pair has formed a joint venture that will now operate Super! in Italy.

DeA is part of Gruppo De Agostini, which holds about a third of Paris-based production and distribution giant Banijay Group.

Viacom has seen major growth in free TV distribution since launching Paramount Channel in Italy in February 2016. It claims to be close to reaching 30 million viewers each month.

“Our pay TV partnerships remain the priority for Viacom, but free-to-air distribution is helping us grow ratings and revenues in TV markets where free-to-air networks are predominant,” said VIMN CEO David Lynn.

“Free-to-air channel launches have helped us significantly expand our reach amongst Italian TV viewers and we’re ambitious for future share growth in this valuable and important TV market.”

VIMN’s president and managing director for Southern and Western Europe, Africa and the Middle East, Raffaele Annecchino, said the deals marked “latest step in our ongoing strategy to scale-up our business in Italy”.

He noted the territory “has the highest number of free-to-air channels of any European TV market and is the third biggest in terms of advertising revenues”.

“These new free-to-air channels, combined with our strong distribution relationship with [pay TV provider] Sky, give us a great balance between free-to-air and pay TV in this market and allow us to reach all demographics with distinct and competitive offers.”

The launch of Spike is opposite to developments in the US, where the channel is to become a general entertainment offer called the Paramount Network in January.