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Italians Turn On to IPTV

After a ponderous few years of false starts and marketing issues, the Italian IPTV market looks as if it's finally gaining some momentum.

After a long spell of indecision and technical trials, incumbent operator Telecom Italia (TIM) , which announced its financial results for the first half of 2008 and hit out at media reports today, says it added 100,000 IPTV customers during the first half of this year, taking its total at the end of June to 180,000. (See Telecom Italia Reports H1, T Italia Slams Leak, and Telecom Italia Rejects Microsoft IPTV.)

The incumbent has 6.6 million retail broadband customers, so has plenty of room for growth, and at its current average rate of growth it will hit around 280,000 Alice TV subscribers by the end of this year, though it has set itself a target of 300,000.

Whatever it achieves, it's likely to be challenging long-time Italian IPTV front runner Fastweb SpA (Milan: FWB) for the No. 1 spot some time soon.

FastWeb, which also announced its latest financial results today, has been selling IPTV services since 2002, when it began hooking up Italian homes with fiber connections. (See FastWeb Reports Q2.)

But by the end of 2007 it still had only 170,000 customers signed up for its triple-play package, despite having 1.25 million broadband customers. (See Top Ten: IPTV Carriers.)

Now FastWeb, which is majority owned by Swisscom AG (NYSE: SCM), has 1.4 million high-speed access customers, giving it a 13 percent share of the Italian broadband market, and, while it doesn't break out its IPTV numbers at the moment, it is believed to be adding more than 30,000 telco TV customers per quarter, which would give it a total of around 230,000 IPTV users at the end of June.

Neither TI nor FastWeb is likely to be challenged for the Italian IPTV top spot by the market's other two players any time soon.

Tiscali, which also unveiled its earnings today, launched its Italian TV-over-broadband services in December 2007 in only three cities: Milan, Rome, and Cagliari. Now, though, it has expanded to seven new cities -- Bologna, Florence, Genoa, Naples, Palermo, Turin, and Trieste – making its IPTV service available to a potential 4 million households. (See Tiscali Reports H1.)

Tiscali's Italian operations, though, are small compared to its main rivals. It has 574,000 DSL customers, of which 360,000 are on unbundled lines (connected to Tiscali's own DSL infrastructure). And the company is feeling the heat: It is still looking for a buyer, is feeling the pressure of competing in two fierce broadband markets, Italy and the U.K. -- so much so that it has lowered its earnings forecast for the year -- and says it will review its business plan during the fourth quarter of this year. (See Euro Stock Watch: Thomson Up, Tiscali Down.)

Italy's fourth broadband player, Wind Telecomunicazioni SpA , which has more than 1.1 million broadband customers, is another telco TV fledgling, having undertaken a "soft launch" of its Infostrada IPTV service in November last year. (See Wind Joins Euro IPTV Surge.)

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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