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Volume 25 No. 27
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Discovery Lands European Olympic Rights Through ’24

In a stunning development, Discovery Communications has landed Europe’s Olympic media rights through 2024 for $1.48 billion (€1.3 billion).

The U.S.-based Discovery now controls all European media rights – broadcast, pay-TV, digital and mobile – to four Olympic Games in 50 European countries and territories, excluding the Russian Federation. The deal takes effect with the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang.

Discovery and the International Olympic Committee agreed on the deal about a week ago. It was announced formally this morning and covers 2018 in South Korea and 2020 in Tokyo. Sites for the 2022 and 2024 Games have not been announced.

The deal means that European broadcasters – the ARD and ZDF in Germany, for example – will have to sublicense Olympic packages from Discovery if they want over-the-air access to the Games. Plus, it marks a major step forward for Discovery’s Eurosport channel and online presences, which will be a main outlet for Olympic programming.

Previously, the IOC has sold rights to local European broadcasters. Or it has sold rights to other pan-European companies such as SportsFive International or the European Broadcasting Union, who turned around and sold them to local broadcasters. This deal is different in that Discovery expects to keep most of the rights, though it does plan to sublicense them in some markets.

“We have 26 years of doing business here in Europe,” Discovery President and CEO David Zaslav told SportsBusiness Journal/Daily. “We were investing all across Europe when most media companies were retreating. We feel like it is a perfect fit. If you put the Olympics together with Eurosport and our ten channels in every country and our broadcast networks, we could bring meaningful value to the events, and we could promote them across all of our platforms.”

The deal does not cover France and Britain in 2018 and 2020; previously, France Télévisions and the BBC picked up those rights. But Discovery will hold all rights in those markets in 2022 and 2024.

Another significant part of the deal will see the IOC partner on an Olympic TV channel with Discovery and Eurosport that will be distributed across Europe.

“Above all, this agreement ensures that sports fans in Europe will be able to enjoy excellent coverage of the Olympic Games and Olympic sports, both during and outside Games time, on their platform of choice,” said IOC President Thomas Bach in a prepared statement.

In fact, it was when Bach publicized his desire to launch an Olympic channel last summer that Zaslav looked into acquiring the rights and kicked off an eight-month negotiating process.

“When I read his comments [about an Olympic channel], I just thought, ‘This should be us,’” Zaslav said, pointing to Eurosport, which reaches 130 million homes with a heavy mix of Olympic sports content – more than 40 percent.

Upon reading Bach’s comments, Zaslav called his friend Dick Ebersol, the former head of NBC Sports who is closely associated with producing the Olympic Games in the United States. Ebersol agreed to be an unpaid adviser to help Zaslav get to know the executives who run the IOC. In late summer, the two met in Zaslav’s New York office, along with Discovery Networks International President JB Perrette, to develop a plan.

“They asked me to introduce them into the IOC world,” Ebersol said. “We came to Switzerland in October of last year, and I introduced them to Christophe De Kepper, who is the director general of the IOC. We sat down for about two-and-a-half hours, which gave David and JB the great opportunity – which they took more than full advantage of – of really showing De Kepper what they were all about.”

The IOC eventually hired IMG as a consultant and accepted bids for the European media rights June 15. Discovery placed one of the bids, but it is not known which other media companies participated.

For Zaslav, the long-term Olympic deal ensures that his European networks will have programming that generates huge ratings at least every other year.

“It clicked pretty early on because the ambition of the IOC was to look for someone who was going to invest substantially in the Olympics, but also to take the Olympics to every demographic on every platform and be committed to promote Olympic sports and Olympic athletes all year round,” said Zaslav. “When we look at the Olympics, we see it not just as sports content and not just as great content for Eurosport, but we also think it’s great IP for the future of our company. Unlike IP that’s related to movies, it’s dependable. You know that the Olympics every other year for 17 days is going to be a worldwide event. We have the ability to drive that and build it.”

Zaslav plans to use the Olympics association to grow Discovery’s European business.

“We think that we can use the Olympics to build Eurosport,” he said. “We could use it to enhance our overall presence here in Europe. And just being associated with the rings, with the IOC and with the Olympics, it’s a perfect fit for Discovery, which is a purpose-driven brand that has great values around quality content satisfying curiosity.”

Discovery owns the Eurosport TV channel, several broadcast networks and the Discovery suite of channels. Eurosport has a pan-European feed, and localized Eurosport channels in each country. That will allow Discovery to localize Olympic programming to each market.

Discovery says it operates an average of 10 channels in every European market, including a broadcast presence in Britain, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Nordic countries.

As part of the deal, Discovery committed to put at least 200 hours of the Summer Games and 100 hours of the Winter Games on free-to-air television in Europe. Discovery has told the IOC that it will sublicense packages in many markets to maintain that commitment.