High-quality sports coverage could be key for media companies looking for a profit pick-up, the CEO of RCS MediaGroup told CNBC on Tuesday.
RCS MediaGroup is based in Milan and listed on the Italian stock exchange. The media conglomerate is valued at 615.5 million euros ($660 million) and operates in newspapers, magazines, book publishing, radio, online and satellite television. Its closest national rival is Grupo Editoriale L'Espresso, which is valued at 500.5 million euros, and its flagship brands include Italy's "Corriere della Sera" and Spanish newspaper "El Mundo."
On Tuesday, RCS MediaGroup Chief Executive Pietro Scott Jovane told CNBC that exclusive programming had helped the company become Europe's "third-largest sports business in terms of quality content."
"What is really driving the audience and the profitable audience to these platforms is typically content… And we see that ourselves, we are actually the third-largest sports business in terms of quality content in Europe," Jovane told CNBC on Tuesday.
RCS MediaGroup's sports portfolio includes Italian newspaper "La Gazzetta dello Sport" and events such as the Dubai Tour and the Euroleague Basketball Final Four.
Jovane said the audience driver for FTSE 100-listed Sky was "definitely sports."
Shares of Sky leaped on Tuesday after it posted a 20 percent rise in 9-month profit.
The profit uptick was a jump that Jovane said justified Sky's pay-platform model, although he also emphasized the impact of online distribution on PCs, tablets and mobile.
"Compared to the online audience in Europe, the online sports audience is growing 40 percent faster in the last few years," said Jovane. "It's simply a broader audience than what it used to be."
RCS MediaGroup cannot thank sports alone for the company's nascent turnaround. Business-wide restructuring and a capital increase helped the company half its net loss in 2014 to 110.8 million euros from 218.5 million euros in the previous year.
Now, the media group is forecasting a pick-up in its main European markets of Spain and Italy. Both economies are "indicating a change in pace," Jovane said, thanks in part to state reforms around labor and corporate governance.
"The (Italian Renzi) government is actually embraced these specific changes and they are working on them, I think, pretty quickly," Jovane told CNBC. "We are looking forward to the positive impact in our economy."
RCS saw significant improvement in Spain last year and expected advertising spending to continue recovering into 2015.
Italy, meanwhile, was lagging.
"Italy, I think, is six months behind, so we will see some economic recovery during the course of this quarter," Jovane said, adding that there would be a further pick up in the second half of the year.
Clarification: The CEO of RCS MediaGroup is called Pietro Scott Jovane.