Digital TV high on Murdoch's priority list

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Flush with cash, Rupert Murdoch is poised to shift his attention to digital television following the failure of his News Corporation to buy a controlling stake in three Italian television stations owned by former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

According to sources familiar with the media mogul's strategy, Mr Murdoch was quite prepared to walk away from a deal with Mr Berlusconi when it became clear that he would not be able to buy a controlling stake.

He is now expected to intensify moves on other fronts, including a movie studio in Sydney, new online entertainment and information services with joint-venture partner MCI, the second-largest US long-distance telephone operator, and digital satellite in the UK, likely to cost "several hundreds of millions" to launch.

As expected, Saudi investor Prince al-Waleed, the German media conglomerate Kirch Group and the Richemont group of South Africa confirmed yesterday that they are to buy a 20 per cent holding in Mediaset, the subsidiary of Mr Berlusconi's Fininvest that groups the three TV stations and an advertising company, for $1.1bn.

A group of Italian banks will pay a further $1.1bn for a similarly sized stake. By 1996, the company is to be floated, with Mr Berlusconi's company ending up with 35 to 40 per cent of the shares.