Italy's flagship Sanremo festival is undergoing a ratings crisis.

The annual show is broadcast live every evening over five nights in February, from 9.10pm to 12.30p.m. on the state-owned Rai Uno network.

For the first half of the Monday, Feb. 25 opening night, it recorded an average figure of 9.5 million viewers, for an audience share of 35%. This marks a drop of 3 million viewers from the corresponding night in 2007, which grabbed a 43.8% audience share. It is the worst result for Sanremo since the introduction of Auditel ratings in 1987.

The Monday night figures initially appeared to suffer due to stiff competition from another program, the investigative "Chi l'ha Visto?," broadcast on state-owned Rai Tre.

Yet the festival's ratings deteriorated further on Tuesday. The average audience for the first half of the evening was 8.27 million (an average audience share of 29.7%), representing a drop of 3.5 million on last year.

The festival took its traditional break on Wednesday evening, to make way for matches in the Italian soccer championship, but resumed Thursday, continues tonight and concludes Saturday.

The Sanremo Festival is currently in its 58th edition. It has been the dominant musical event in Italy since the early 1950s and has launched many Italian careers, including, in the early 1990s, those of Andrea Bocelli and Laura Pausini. Its impressive TV audience has also made it a showcase opportunity for foreign acts over the years.

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