Agcom report 2011: the ‘state of the art’ of the Italian media system

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On 14th June the President of Agcom (Autorità per le Garanzie nelle Comunicazioni- Italian media authority) Mr. Corrado Calabrò has presented to the Italian Parliament (Camera dei deputati) the annual report on activities conducted by the national regulatory Authority in the field of media. Like every year the presentation has been an opportunity to describe the ‘state of the art’ of the Italian media system and to draw the lines of the development of the system in the near future. In the presentation special attention has been paid on the relentless rise of the Internet as ‘new media outlet’ intended to influence the present and the future of the media system, but also as extraordinary vehicle for spreading freedom and democratic values, as recently demonstrated by the so called ‘Arab Spring’.

Despite the novelty in the media system represented by the Internet, as outlined in the presentation, the Italian ‘Information ecosystem’ appears still strongly influenced by the traditional media and, in particular, by television. According to data provided in the report, the television is still the most used platform to ‘consume’ information followed by publishing and the Internet. 

Television

The Italian television system appears still characterized – on the free channels – by a substantial duopoly in terms of audience and advertising. The total resources of the television system grew by 4.5 percent in the last year. Mediaset – the main private broadcaster- has collected the 30.9 percent of the total resources followed by Sky (29.3 percent – is important to notice that in Italy, Sky operates mainly on satellite as pay-tv) and by the public broadcaster Rai that has collected 28.5 percent of the resources available. Mediaset with an audience estimated at the 38 percent, in the last year, has collected the 56 percent of the advertising followed by the Rai that with the 41 percent of the total audience has controlled the 24 percent of the resources and Sky that has collected less than 5 percent of the advertising resources.

According to the President Calabrò, the reported data demonstrate the ‘slow decline’ of the public broadcaster closed by the strict antitrust limits established by Law no. 112/2004 (so called Legge Gasparri) and hit by long-unsolved problems such as the tax evasion of the television fee by Italian viewers. The deadlock of the Italian television system has not changed, as remarked in the report, even with the introduction of the digital terrestrial platform in which the operators are substantially the same of the traditional one. In order to open the market to other operators Agcom in the 2010 has released a new ‘Frequencies Plan’ (adopted by deliberation no. 300/10/Cons), with the aim to start a new auction of frequencies for the digital platform trying to realize, by this way, a new balance in the Italian television system.

Publishing

The publishing industry has been invested by significant changes in recent years. Also in Italy, as in the major European Countries, a rapid growth of the online press has been registered at which acted – as a counterweight – a significant reduction in sales of printed newspapers (less 4.5 percent in 2010). The described trend has been registered also in the advertising spread on newspapers. According to data provided by Agcom online advertising has reached a value of about 1 billion euros and Google has been the main actor in the described process.

In order to clarify all aspects of the ‘online advertising process’ Agcom has announced plans to conduct a specific study on the subject in the 2011.

Telecommunications

According to Agcom, the Italian telecommunication sector can be described as a ‘two-speed’ system. In 2010 there has been a general reduction of tariffs for consumers- due to a strengthening of the competitive structure of the market- but remained deep differences between mobile services and home services.

In fact, in the last year has been registered a rapid growth of mobile services – not only in term of mobile devices sold (is important to notice that Italy has long been the European leader for the number of mobile-phones annually sold)- but also for the penetration of mobile broadband which has registered an annual growth of 35 percent.

According to Agcom data, the situation appears deeply different for the home broadband diffusion rate. The penetration of broadband in 2010 remained at 22 percent with an increase of only 1,4 percent from last year and still well below the European average of 26,6 percent. in order to reverse the described trend is necessary to adopt an ‘infrastructure plan’ that allows a rapid spread of broadband in the Country.

According to President Calabrò would be necessary -to achieve the target- also to overcome the limitations posed by the European rules on Ngn Networks, by allowing a direct state intervention in the investments for the broadband infrastucture.

Even for the mobile networks are needed to allow interventions to prevent network congestion due to increasingly intensive use of it. To this end, the Law no. 220/2010 (so called Legge di stabilità 2011) has provided a new public auction for the mobile frequencies that will involve, in the 2011, around 300 Mhz of frequencies and will cash out, according to Agcom’s provisions, more than 2.4 billion euros.

 Copyright’s protection and digital rights

A significant part of the Agcom’s annual report has been dedicated to the protection of copyright on the Internet. In fact, by the Law-decree no. 44/2010 (so called Decreto Romani)- subject to a profound criticism by the Italian legal doctrine – the Government has assigned to Agcom relevant tasks in order to protect copyright on the net.

Recently, the Authority has started a public consultation on the subject (in particular by proposing a notice and takedown procedure in order to prevent and repress copyright’s infringement on the Internet) but, as remarked by President Calabrò, remain still unclear how extensive is the scope of the Agcom’s competence in the specific field.

In order to clarify this fundamental aspect Mr. Calabrò in his speech has asked the Parliament that- as part of an overall reform of the Italian copyright protection system- would be introduced a regulation that clearly set out the tasks of Agcom in this sensitive area.

Conclusion

The Agcom’s annual report shows the Italian media system as a system in which the ‘new’ represented by the Internet is struggling to take hold – limited by technical and legislative obstacles- and the ‘old’ does not want to reap the full benefits of technological innovation.  Tentative signs of change come from the development of mobile services and from the process of technological convergence currently in place.

But the road ahead appears still long. To modernize the Italian media system is necessary to focus all the attentions on the ’culture of innovation’, as stated by the President Calabrò, by exploiting the full potential of our Country in terms of skills and knowledge, in the way to ensure a new economic revival based on the ICT.

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