Italian TV (and politics): A system in transition

Curator's Note

Two common stereotypes usually portray Italian broadcasting: half-dressed women and Berlusconi. Notwithstanding that an objectifying gaze on women is still quite widespread and that Mr. Berlusconi is still the owner of three commercial networks, it is quite unfair to stop just at these characterizations.

By the early 2000s, the Italian television system had entered a period of gradual but deep transformation, The effects of this were wide-reaching: Technological, with the start of multi-platform distribution; Institutional, with more competition among broadcasters and production companies (since 2003, Sky Italia rapidly topped competitor’s revenues); Textual, with the proliferation of new formats and programs; and, last but not least, on the side of Audience practices.

This week In Media Res casts a glance at the most interesting phenomena on Italian television. The framework of “convergence” will be the leitmotif. Through three very different cases of scripted programs (two family “dramedies” addressed to a mainstream audience and a “spaghetti crime fiction” which opened a new genre of “made-for-pay-TV” drama) along with one unscripted, trashy daytime talk show, a more complex image of Italian TV will emerge, where traditional elements (as references to conventional genres) and new innovations (as creative use of online media) are now firmly bound together.

But what about Berlusconi? If we submit that Mr. Berlusconi's “conflict of interest” has had the effect of freezing the evolution of the Italian TV system during the last years, it is also fair to say that the system was changing anyway.

Consider the case of Raiperunanotte. In 2010, senior officials at RAI chose to shut down the most popular political talk show during the last weeks of the electoral campaign under pressure from Berlusconi’s government. The show's host, Michele Santoro – often depicted as “the stronger opponent” of Berlusconi outside political institutions - set up a “temporary program.” called Raiperunanotte (“RAI only for one night”), aired by an “assemblage” of different platforms: all-news and satellite networks, local channels coordinated on national level, and newspaper online-portals. In tone with Mr. Santoro's style, the program marked a sharp attack of Mr. Berlusconi. As shown in the accompaning video fragment, Berlusconi is compared to Benito Mussolini, both for his populist rhetoric and the inclination to limit his opponents. A system “frozen” for a long time in the duopoly of RAI/Mediaset is now showing signs of change. As a highly popular program born outside the “walled garden” of a traditional network, Raiperunanotte represents a case in point.

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