Silvio Berlusconi’s Death Rapidly Raises Questions About Future of Family-Owned Empire

Reactions are pouring in across Italy and globally to the death on Monday of scandal-tainted media mogul and politician Silvio Berlusconi that marks the end of an Italian era and raises questions about the future of his empire which spans from TV, advertising, and sports to real estate and insurance.

Berlusconi, who was 86, died Monday morning at Milan’s San Raffaele hospital from complications of a lung infection due to chronic leukemia. At his bedside where four of his five children Eleonora, Barbara, Marina and Pier Silvio and his brother Paolo.

As former Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, a political rival and leader of Italy’s centrist Italia Viva party put it: “Silvio Berlusconi made the history of this country. Many loved him, many hated him: everyone must recognize that his impact on our political life, as well as on its economic, sports and television spheres, was unprecedented. Today Italy mourns together with his family, his loved ones, his party.”

Meanwhile, the Milan market wasted no time in reacting to Berlusconi’s passing. Shares in his rebranded MediaForEurope TV empire, formerly known as Mediaset, jumped by as much as 10% shortly after Berlusconi’s death was reported, indicating that Milan traders think this could lead to the company being sold or merged.

Though it’s a bit early to speculate about the uncertain future of Berlusconi’s business empire – and the late mogul has not publicly given indications on his succession – it’s likely that at least in the immediate aftermath of his death, Berlusconi’s eldest offspring Marina Berlusconi will remain president of the Berlusconi family’s Fininvest holding company, which has revenues of more than €5 billion ($5.3 billion) and more than 20,0000 employees. While Pier Silvio Berlusconi, his second-oldest child, will continue to run MediaForEurope as its CEO. That leaves the other three children without a management role, despite the fact that all of Berlusconi’s progeny reportedly have roughly the same ownership stake in his empire.

According to Italian analysts there are several Fininvest sale scenarios that could take place in coming months. One of these is to have a private equity fund and/or other partners – one of which could be France’s Vivendi which is already a stakeholder – enter the Fininvest shareholding structure and buy out the family members who want to leave.

This scenario could also involve a top management shakeup with the Berlusconi family still retaining ownership control.

MediaForEurope in April reported a sharp net profit drop of €216.9 million ($233 million), down from €374.1 million ($402 million) in 2021, due to Italy’s stagnating advertising market, but still representing a 14% increase on the pre-Covid year 2019.

MFE, which is going through restructuring and consolidation of its Italian and Spanish units, makes the bulk of its money by selling advertising space on its free-to-air channels such as Italy’s Canale 5. In the current landscape it’s facing much stiffer competition than during its glory days from online giants and streaming service platforms. Responding to the challenge from streaming giants, Pier Silvio Berlusconi has been seeking to create a pan-European group (as reflected in the company’s rebranding) and has built a stake of more than 25% in German media giant ProSiebenSat.1 which recently allowed him to obtain a seat on the rival group’s supervisory board. But it’s an uphill battle, and even if he were able to pull off a merger with ProSieben – with which MFE synergies are dubious – the new group would still lack scale compared with U.S. conglomerates like Comcast and Paramount Global.

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