The referendum's outcome could force Silvio Berlusconi's Fininvest media company to divest two of its three networks and limit advertising sales division Publitalia's advertising revenue, which totaled $1.8 billion last year.
At the same time, press reports claimed Rupert Murdoch, with whom Mr. Berlusconi has been talking about a possible sale of the Fininvest TV division, made two offers: $2.7 billion if the vote goes against Fininvest, or $4 billion should Fininvest get to keep three networks.
Press reports also claimed a consortium formed by Saudi Arabian Prince Al-Waleed, the German media company Kirch Group and Time Warner have made a joint bid of $610 million to $910 million for a 20% to 25% stake in Fininvest's TV division, which includes the three networks, the program library and Publitalia.
Just days before the vote, Fininvest Chairman Fedele Confalonieri confirmed he will be tried on charges of illegally financing political parties.
In the referendum, voters considered 12 questions, including if one company or individual should own more than one national TV network; and should any one ad rep company sell airtime for more than two networks. The referendum TV spots and print ads have been sponsored by two main groups: The Committee for Yes, which supports forcing Fininvest to cut back; and the Committee for No, which opposes a public vote on the matter. The Committee for Yes has used newspaper ads, while the Committee for No has relied heavily on TV spots on commercial stations.
Law requires Fininvest to make available to the Committee for Yes the same amount of airtime as it has provided the opposition on Fininvest's Canale 5, Italia 1 and Rete 4 networks, said a Publitalia executive.
These spots were offered at a 35% discount from regular rates.
Fininvest has also been airing testimonial promos taped by the networks' on-air personalities, explaining how the advent of commercial TV has increased Italian viewers' choices.
While these testimonials didn't encourage a no vote to the referendum, they did explain that Fininvest could be forced to divest, lay off personnel and stop producing many popular shows.
Fininvest also has been buying page ads in daily newspapers showing a collage of pictures of employees at work, in TV studios, in offices and out in the field.
The copy for the in-house created ad says, "We are Canale 5, Italia 1 and Rete 4 too, we have built the leading Italian media group."