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Umbriafication of Italy at Umbriafiction.

This third edition of Umbriafiction moved on three fronts: The public debates that generated excitement among the Italians; the private debates that were heated; and the sad state 6f Umbriafiction as an event.

The latter was the result of several factors: the reduced financial contribution that RAI could give as co-sponsor; the fact that Essevi, its main organizer, is out of business; and the realization that former RAI president and Umbriafiction "godfather" Enrico Manca is virtually out of the picture.

In addition, when the current political upheaval in Italy had disqualified Manca as a potential Culture Minister, Silvio Berlusconi drastically cut his involvement with Umbriafiction. Furthermore, according to an American distributor, Berlusconi even asked his stars not to appear at Umbriafiction so as not to "burn his Telegatti Awards."

During the public debates, the Americans predictably kept their comments along pre-established lines. One moderator, Variety's Gerry Byrne, did not seem inclined to probe his panelists, possibly to avoid the risk of offending potential advertisers. The other moderator, Italian journalist Marco Mele, did not even speak English. The presence of European and non-European participants was almost nil. The no-shows among the publicized round table speakers were numerous. Overall, this Umbriafiction, held as usual in Perugia, turned out to be an event by Italians, for Italians, about Italian problems.

Problems in Italy indeed exist. Large reactions came from most newspapers to Riccardo Tozzi's announcement that Reteitalia, Berlusconi's production arm, is cutting about $13.5 million, or 15 per cent, from its 1993 production budget. In addition, according to the weekly L'Espresso, Berlusconi's partnership in Penta, the film company he formed with the Cecchi-Goris, will end later this year.

As emphasized at Umbriafiction, in Italy the movie business is a risky undertaking. Each year, since 1990, two movie theaters a day close in Italy. So far, only 850 screens remain throughout the country. Television is squarely blamed. Every year, a few panelists noted, some 11,000 movies are shown on Italian TV networks and independent stations, so people don't have to go to the cinemas. However, Tozzi blamed the poor state of Italian movie houses and he gave as example Berlusconi's efficient Odeon multiplex in Milan which does good business.

But Bertusconi has other problems. Lost income from sponsorship, now severely limited, could amount to $300 million a year, possibly pushing his TV broadcast operations into the red. Compounding this is the limited number of subscribers for his pay TV services and the yet undiscovered way to collect for film-on-demand, preventing his entry into PPV.

Sounding the alarm was RAI's president, Walter Pedulla, who said that the Italian TV industry is risking to be left outside the large European TV picture. "In effect," said Pedulla, "Italy is now a class B country, and this is after we were in class A with our movies."

Similarly, RCS Video's Paolo Glisenti emphasized that Italy's television industry is now in the "suburbs of Europe." Concurring with these assessments was Lux's Ettore Bernabei.

Eutelasat's Giuliano Berretta pointed out that while Italy has pioneered the expansion of television in Europe, today it is behind all other European nations. However, TCI's Fred Vierra indicated that, although Italy is 10 years behind, it doesn't mean that it will take to years to catch up. There are two main reasons for Italy's predicament: First, lack of cable TV and satellite TV. Second, the unfair broadcast law that created two monopolies, one public (RAI) and the other private (Berlusconi),

Because Italy's broadcast laws were created under a corrupt regime, said to have favored Berlusconi, there are now insistent reports that the next regime will divide the TV frequencies among four groups with two networks each.

Naturally, Berlusconi isn't taking all this passively. One action contemplated seems to be the creation of his own political party; plus, according to Superchannnel's Mariolina Marcucci, Berlusconi is quickly introducing digital compression, This latter strategy is twofold: It will prevent the popularization of satellite TV and it will secure at least six pay-TV terrestrial channels, in adddition to his free TV channels. In effect, Berlusconi is betting on the fact that the public will be reluctant to a) pay another TV fee in addition to that of RAI, be it for cable or satellite, and b) that the TV household will not want to install yet another antenna on an already crowded rooftop.

Large relevance was given to an article that orginally appeared in Corriere della Sera at MIP-TV. According to its author, journalist Paolo Calcagno, Berlusconi signed a three-year first option agreement for movies from Fox , Columbia and Paramount. Such a deal, which was denied by, among others, Fox's Jim Gianopulos, was valued by RAI's officials at some $1 billion.

However, RAI Uno's Carlo Fuscagni didn't see any problem since, he said, Berlusconi has a special relationship with those studios, while RAI has a good link with MCA, Warner Bros. and Walt Disney.

With all said and done, it now remains to be seen if Umbriafiction, whose budget was slashed to $3.3 million (from $4.7 million in 1992), can continue to provide a forum for airing views and news about the Italian entertainment industry.
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Title Annotation:Italian film industry
Publication:Video Age International
Date:May 1, 1993
Previous Article:It's now all biz, mate!
Next Article:Deficit financing: a look into producers' wallet.

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