Pier Luigi Celli, the polemical former CEO of RAI, has warned that the arrival on the Italian market of Sky Italia is "certain" to cause more economic damage to the state broadcaster than to Silvio Berlusconi's Mediaset network.

In an interview published by Italian news weekly L'Espresso, Celli said: "Between Rai and Mediaset, the one who will have more problems because of the arrival of Sky will certainly be Rai. It is the broadcaster who suffers the most from [the downturn in the] advertising market."

"This is also strictly linked to the type of audience Rai attracts," said Celli, who is currently a director of Italian bank Unicredito Italiano.

"Rai's audience is made up primarily of older people who live in the centre and south of the country; it is an audience that attracts a lot less advertising. And the arrival of Sky is likely to worsen Rai's economic situation," he said.

However, former Twentieth Century Fox Italia director Osvaldo De Santis, who is now a director of Sky Italia, countered claims that the new pay-tv entity will bite a large chunk out of Rai's advertising revenue.

"Advertising revenue will not account for more than 20 percent of our total revenue," he said.

Sky Italia officially launched on July 31st , while its 24-hour news programme due to kick off on August 29.

The pay-tv platform, formed out of the merger of the financially crippled Telepiu and Stream, currently counts 2.3m subscribers.

But while it aims to reach an audience of 4 million by the end of 2004, analysts still expect the company to close the year 2003-2004 with a loss of $ 220m-230m.

Meanwhile, Sky Italia has not yet moved to quash the local film industry's fears that the new pay-tv platform will invest less in feature film acquisitions than Telepiu, which pumped around $90m into the industry each year.

Sky Italia inherited from Telepiu Italian pay-tv rights to Marco Bellocchio's Venice competitor, Buongiorno Notte, and Paolo Virzi's comedy Caterina Va in Citta'. However, the company has not yet announced a medium or long-term acquisitions plan.