ITALY: TELEVISION

Variety has finally arrived on Italian television, but quality is something you’ll always have to pay for. Free-to-air TV now has hundreds of channels, with everything from local news to the state-run RAI to some Disney channels and the occasional U.S. news, such as MSNBC. But for good English-language news, a wide selection of live sports, and recent movies, you will need to pay. Rupert Murdoch’s monopoly, Sky, has a lock on all the premium sports, from Grand Prix racing to the NBA. Subscriptions cost about €30 per month depending on the package, so many Italians prefer to view such events at the local bar. Currently, Mediaset has a less-expensive option, closer to €10 for a smaller selection.

All of these of course come with the standard Italian fare of variety shows and news, which apart from soccer make up the daily fare of the average viewer. After all, that’s about all there was to watch for most adult Italians’ lives.

From the days of Mussolini until the 1980s, there was just one major broadcaster: the state-run RAI. No competition was allowed on the national level. One man, Silvio Berlusconi, managed to get around this monopoly by somewhat illegally transmitting the same programs and commercials simultaneously on local stations. He emerged legally unscathed from the affair, and his newly created Mediaset empire set the table for increased television competition. Now, free-to-air TV is of course an open market.

RAI remains a public entity that lives off of tax revenues and a yearly viewer fee called the canone. It costs about €100 per year, paid by anyone who has purchased a television. The code from the new TV goes from the store to the state, and you are responsible for the annual fee. If you are a renter, this is of course not your responsibility, and if someone gives you an older TV, well, no one is going to come after you for the TV tax.

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