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ROME/MILAN (Reuters) - Italian state broadcaster RAI has picked investment bank Lazard to assess merger and acquisition options for its towers unit Rai Way, two sources close to the matter said on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Mario Draghi in March approved a decree allowing RAI to cut its holding in Rai Way below 51% from the current 65%, in a move expected to trigger consolidation in the television and radio mast sector.
The decree could pave the way for merger talks between Rai Way and unlisted rival EI Towers, a long-mooted tie-up that would create a group worth more than 2 billion euros ($2.2 billion).
EI Towers is 40%-owned by Italy's top commercial broadcaster MediaForEurope (MFE), controlled by the family of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. Italian infrastructure fund F2i holds the remaining 60%.
MFE valued its EI Towers stake at 387.7 million euros in its 2021 financial statements, implying an overall valuation for EI Towers of around 1 billion euros.
Listed in 2014, Rai Way has a market capitalisation of approximately 1.4 billion euros.
Under the decree, RAI can cut its stake in Rai Way to no lower than 30% while keeping control of Rai Way's infrastructure.
Rai Way's shares were 1.7% higher by 1340 GMT against a 0.8% drop in the Italian all-share index
News of Lazard's mandate was first reported by Il Sole 24 Ore daily on Wednesday. Lazard declined to comment.
A third source separately said advisers would assess whether the conditions set out by the government were attractive for all parties involved.
A fourth source told Reuters F2i was unwilling to back a deal that would see RAI take control of EI Towers' infrastructure.
F2i CEO Renato Ravanelli has said the fund would strive to contribute to the project of a single broadcasting tower company and create infrastructure aligned with European competition best practices, F2i told Reuters in a statement.
RAI has traditionally been subject to political influence and a potential merger of its tower arm with EI Towers is opposed by several ruling politicians.
In April, an influential parliamentary committee supervising the state broadcaster approved a document urging RAI to preserve a majority stake in Rai Way.
($1 = 0.9319 euros)
(Reporting by Giuseppe Fonte and Elvira Pollina; Editing by Mark Potter, Kirsten Donovan)