Wed Nov 10, 2004 01:08 PM ET
By Rachel Sanderson
ROME (Reuters) - U.S. media giant Time Warner and Italy's Mediaset joined forces on Wednesday to launch a new children's TV channel aiming to attract an audience turned off by the half-naked dancing girls that feature on much Italian TV.
"We are offering a place where all the family can watch safe in the knowledge they are being protected," Jaime Ondarza, director of "Boing" channel, said at the launch.
Boing is the first new content channel launched specifically for Italy's nascent digital television network.
It aims to draw viewers with a 24-hour mix of cartoons and shows like "Superman" and "Mork and Mindy," putting it in direct competition with children's channels on News Corp's money-losing pay-TV satellite venture Sky Italia.
TV aimed specifically at the 0-14 year old age group is underdeveloped in Italy relative to Britain or France but channels have sprouted recently as public outcry mounts over the quality of Italian terrestrial TV which is dominated by Mediaset and state rival RAI .
Two of Italy's most watched family shows, 6-hour long variety marathons that go head to head on RAI and Mediaset, feature comedy sketches with bikini-clad dancers.
Boing Chairman Silvio Carini said the channel was aiming for 3 percent of Italy's digital TV audience, a market of 800,000 set-top boxes which is forecast to grow to 4 million by 2007.
Mediaset, Italy's leading private broadcaster, controlled by the family of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, has plowed around 10 million euros into the venture and is aiming for breakeven in 2-3 years.
It is considering selling around six minutes of advertising space per hour, Carini said.
Jeff Kupsky, executive vice-president of Turner Broadcasting System Europe, the Time Warner unit involved in the joint venture, declined to say how much it had brought to the deal. But he said if the Italy venture were a success it could be replicated elsewhere in Europe's embryonic digital TV market.
"We want to make more channels, that is what we are interested in, and the first mover advantage is very important," he said.
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