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Discovery wins Olympics for $1.4bn

US factual giant Discovery has acquired the rights to air the Olympic Games on its pan-European network Eurosport, highlighting the scale of its sports rights ambitions.

David Zaslav

David Zaslav

The €1.3bn (US$1.45bn) agreement covers the 2018 Winter Olympics through to the 2024 summer games, and gives Discovery Communications rights across all of Eurosport’s linear and digital platforms.

It is the first time the rights have been awarded to one broadcaster across the whole continent, and covers 50 countries and territories excluding Russia.

Eurosport channel has promised to make a minimum 200 hours of the action available free-to-air (100 hours of the Winter Olympics), in accordance with the Games’ listed status in many European nations. It says it will screen more coverage than any broadcaster before across FTA, pay TV, online and mobile.

The move has come as a blow to public broadcasters across Europe who had previously been the traditional home of the games, particularly the BBC in the UK. Discovery said today it would be negotiating partnerships and sub-licences with other FTA broadcasters for some coverage.

In a conference call to journalists today, Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav said: “We have exclusive rights on all platforms but we understand and have great respect for how the Olympics have been presented in the past.

“We come to this relationship very open minded. We expect it will be sub-distributed in many markets. We hope we’ll be working together and building a strategic relationship where some rights will go to a FTA broadcaster, while we’ll hold other rights on pay TV, and there can be cross-promotion. Beginning today, we’ll be looking at every strategic opportunity with distributors and broadcasters to bring the most compelling games to the most people possible.”

The deal includes provision for a permanent Olympic Channel broadcasting across Europe, a long-held goal of the International Olympic Committee, and comes with the extensive Olympic video archive.

In the UK, the BBC holds exclusive rights to the next two summer games, after which Eurosport will take over as the main broadcaster. The Olympics is listed as a category A event by the media regulator Ofcom, which means at least 200 hours must be made available FTA. The BBC aired 2,500 hours of London 2012 coverage out of the 5,600 hours available to broadcasters during the summer games.

A statement from the pubcaster said the event remained a priority and added: “It is not unprecedented for sports rights to be sold on a pan-territory basis, and the BBC has acquired other sports rights via sub-licensing deals with either agencies or broadcasters.”

The French rights will also transfer to Eurosport only for the winter games in 2022 and the summer games in 2024, owing to existing agreements with France Télévisions.

Discovery paid €170m for a 20% stake in Eurosport and several other channels belonging to France’s TF1 in 2012 and accelerated its plans to own the channel outright 18 months ago.

Eurosport operates FTA channels in the UK, Italy, Germany, Northern Europe.

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