Fabrizio Salini, outgoing RAI chief, talks Maneskin, going digital

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Fabrizio Salini, who prior to running RAI held top posts at Sky, Fox International Channels, and Discovery Italy, is leaving his post as managing director of the Italian pubcaster — which is the country’s top-rated TV service — at the end of his three-year mandate. During this stint he led RAI through the pandemic, boosted its RAI Play streaming platform which now has 17 million subs (albeit non-paying ones) and oversaw the smashing victory of Italian rock band Maneskin at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. Salini spoke to Variety about RAI’s role in Italy’s rapidly changing TV landscape. Excerpts.

Having transitioned from commercial TV to public service at RAI’s the top management level, what’s your main takeaway?

I’ve acquired a more big picture outlook. One that goes beyond product and content. Inevitably as a public service you have to look beyond that to things such as providing news — which admittedly private TV does as well — but you must also look at social cohesion, at focussing attention towards weaker sectors [of society]. You basically have to try to reach everyone, sidestepping market logic. Previously I’d always looked to the market as a measure of my success. But public service is public service — financed by citizens through a license fee. That’s the main difference. On top of that I tried to use my professional background in this context by broadening the scope of what RAI has to offer.

In this respect I think the biggest innovation comes from RAI Play. Do you agree?

Digital is where the decisive challenge lies. When I came on board three years ago we stepped on the gas when it comes to digital, by experimenting with innovative formulas. Our “Viva RAIPlay,” [an original, live variety show hosted in 2019 by a hot local entertainer Fiorello] was the first live entertainment show streamed on a platform anywhere in the world, I think. The platform talks to a young audience that had been abandoning us, and at the same time has become an outlet for new talents, creatives and production companies.

Are there other RAI Play products that you are particularly proud of?

There are several original young adult dramas made for RAI Play such as “Nudes,” “Mental,” and the upcoming “Bangla.” But also the reality docu-series “Sogno Azzurro” that chronicled the gradual rise of Italy’s national soccer team during UEFA Euro 2020 seen from lockers rooms and practice sessions, and was then edited into a film that streamed in access prime time. This was the first product spawned by a new formats unit that I set up at RAI.

In the drama arena RAI has joined forces with other European broadcasters France Télévisions, Germany’s ZDF and Spain’s RTVE to co-produce high-end dramas such as “Leonardo” and counter the monetary muscle of the streaming giants. Do you think there should be more collaboration?

Yes. I think there is lots of work to be done towards this goal, but it’s got to be done. Europe’s public service broadcasters need to join forces more to pool their strength, their expertise, their history. Today public service broadcasters are more necessary than ever to make the industry stronger. And In terms of product and content, what always wins is quality. That’s why it’s important for them to invest in new talents.

In terms of ties among European broadcasters how important was the Eurovision Song contest this year?

Eurovision has always been a powerful pan-European event, but this year it was especially significant for RAI because the success of Maneskin started from the Sanremo Song Festival and from its successful attempt to cater to a younger audience. Having a band like Maneskin featured on Sanremo [where they won] would have been unheard of a few years ago! Of course I am doubly happy because our Sanremo gamble in RAI also paid off in Europe and Italy will be hosting the next contest.


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