Television in Italy was introduced in 1939, when the first experimental broadcasts began. However, this lasted for a very short time: when fascist Italy entered World War II in 1940 all transmissions were interrupted, and were resumed in earnest only nine years after the end of the conflict, on January 3, 1954.
There are two main national television organisations responsible for most viewing: state-owned RAI, accounting for 37% of the total viewing figures in May 2014, and Mediaset, a commercial network which holds about 33%. The third largest player, the Italian branch of Discovery Communications, had a viewing share of 5.8%. Apart from these three free to air companies, News Corporation's satellite pay TV platform Sky Italia is increasing in viewing and shares.
According to BBC, the Italian television industry is widely considered both inside and outside the country to be overtly politicized. Unlike the BBC which is controlled by an independent trust, the public broadcaster RAI is under direct control of the parliament. According to a December 2008 poll, only 24% of Italians trusted television news programmes, compared unfavourably to the British rate of 38%, making Italy one of only three examined countries where online sources are considered more reliable than television ones for information.
Digital terrestrial television technology is expanding rapidly and now every major network in Italy,—including RAI, Mediaset and Cairo Communication—transmits in DVB-T format, while continuing analog broadcast until the end of the transition, originally set by law to December 31, 2006 but later pushed back to the end of 2012.
The Berlusconi II Cabinet started promoting the digital format in December 2003 by granting a public financial contribution for the purchase of a MHP digital television decoder. Starting from January 2005 Mediaset and Telecom Italia Media started offering pay TV services through a prepaid smartcard, including football games, movies and TV shows. On February 2006, during the 2006 Winter Olympics held in Turin, RAI experimentally broadcast a number of sport events using a 1080i signal and H264 coding. The HD signal has been transmitted over the Turin area, using DVB-T hierarchical modulation, and only specially crafted decoders have been able to receive this signal: they were placed in strategical points in the town.
During the UEFA Euro 2008 and the 2008 Summer Olympics, RAI started experimental High Definition broadcasting on Rai Test HD, available only in Turin, Milan, Rome, Sardinia and Aosta Valley, continuing with the 2008 UCI Road World Championships and a few matches of the UEFA Champions League. In July 2008 the European Commission's directorate for competition expressed concerns on whether the actions taken by the current Italian government would be able to alter the current status of duopoly in the broadcasting market held by RAI and Mediaset. Beginning October 31, 2008, in the first region of Italy planned to interrupt analog transmission, Sardinia, television networks broadcast multiplexes only in digital format. Licence fee payers from the region were entitled to a 50 euros discount off the price of a digital television decoder or a new, digital-compatible TV set.
Italy has had digital satellite broadcasts since 1997, with the launch of Stream TV and TELE+. In 2003 these merged into SKY Italia, today this pay TV platform is broadcasting from Hotbird satellites. HDTV regular services started in June 2006 under the name SKY HD, with the broadcasting of the 2006 FIFA World Cup in High Definition. Additional movie and sport channels are planned for the service. Tivù Sat, a Free Satellite Service similar to the UK version Freesat, was launched in June 2009, ensuring access to national television channels from digital terrestrial television networks. Shareholders include Mediaset, Telecom Italia Media and the State Owned Company RAI.
Italy currently has the lowest percentage (less than 1%) of transmissions from cable television of almost all of the world's developed countries.
In the 1960s the public television network RAI was a monopoly and the only network authorized to broadcast in Italy. Giuseppe Sacchi, a former RAI editor, launched on April 21, 1971 the first "free" television station, called Telebiella and based in Biella. It started to broadcast on April 6, 1972, devoted primarily to news and information. Immediately the government led by Giulio Andreotti forced Sacchi to dismantle Telebiella. Later a new law was issued to regulate and allow cable broadcasting, although with tight limitations: only one cable system for every city and only one TV channel for each system. Cable television remained undeveloped for many years, with the exception of a few amateur projects. In the 1990s, first Telecom Italia and then FASTWEB created Optical fiber networks and launched their IPTV offers (however associated with SKY Italia or Mediaset Premium subscriptions). IPTV was the only service to offer Video On Demand up until 2009.
Europa 7: launched in 1999, it commenced broadcast only in October 2010 after a long legal battle between the owner and the State
Odeon: launched in 1987 from some local television stations that were previously affiliated to "Euro TV". The group also includes the channels TLC Telecampione launched in 1982 and TeleReporter launched in 1977 as "Tele Radio Reporter", "Telereporter-Canale 7" between 2002-2004
Telemarket: launched in 1982 and owned by Giorgio Corbelli, it airs TV auctions and home shopping shows and is available on number 124 on DTT
Telepace: launched in 1977 as a radio and, two years later, as a syndication, it is a religious channel and airs direct-to-videos holy masses, holy celebrations and Christian holidays, it is visible only in some regions and it broadcast from near Verona
Televisione Cristiana in Italia: launched in 1979, it is a religious channel too and it was named previously TBNE (Trinity Broadcasting Network Europe), this channel is visible only in some regions too