Discovery CEO Talks Acquisitions, Big Shareholder John Malone

7:02 AM PST 03/10/2014 by Georg Szalai
Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav

UPDATED: David Zaslav also touts the ratings momentum at OWN and international growth opportunity for the ID network and discusses the planned Comcast-Time Warner Cable combination.

Discovery Communications continues to hunt for possible acquisitions, particularly abroad, president and CEO David Zaslav told an investor conference Monday.

Speaking at the Deutsche Bank Media, Internet & Telecom Conference in Palm Beach, Fla., in an appearance that was webcast, he said: "If we can grow faster with an acquisition and it's strategic, we will" go after it.

But he also said that the company will remain disciplined about deals and continues to see strong upside from the international business it currently owns.

Zaslav on Monday didn't address specific potential acquisitions or comment on the bidding process for U.K. broadcaster Channel 5 that Discovery has been eyeing along with others.

He also once again touted the outlook for OWN, the joint venture network of Discovery and Oprah Winfrey, and crime-centric network ID, plus he discussed his relationship with Liberty Media boss John Malone, who owns a 29 percent stake in Discovery.

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"Crime works everywhere," Zaslav said in touting the continued international rollout of ID. "That will be a great growth engine for us," he added, saying that the channel already draws big numbers in some markets.

Discussing OWN, he said, "We couldn't be prouder of what Oprah has done," adding that audiences have grown as she has become more comfortable in her on-air and off-air roles. Zaslav said that OWN is now a top three network for African-Americans, and on Tuesdays it has a strong female audience.

Asked about big shareholder and Discovery board member Malone's push for cable consolidation, Zaslav said, "He is so brilliant" and has been "bullish" on Western Europe, which has helped Discovery's recent acquisitions there, including that of SBS in Scandinavia and pan-European sports network Eurosport. "John does see the way the world is changing," Zaslav said.

The fact that Discovery has grown its scale and market share will serve it well in a world that could see more pay TV consolidation, Zaslav said.

Malone recently gave Zaslav and Liberty Global CEO Mike Fries the right of first refusal to buy his voting stakes in the companies in what was seen as a succession planning move. Asked about the Discovery deal and whether it changes management's planning, Zaslav said: "John is at his full powers right now." He added: "The deal … is really something that … hasn't had an impact. We are a long-term player."

The Discovery CEO was also asked about the planned Comcast-Time Warner Cable combination. "It's a lot of subs," he said. "We have grown from 5 percent market share to 12 percent … but we all have to see what the impact is."

Zaslav on Monday also said that the increased market share will allow Discovery to get higher carriage fees in upcoming deal renewals.

Asked about Internet-based pay TV services that Verizon and Dish could potentially launch this year, Zaslav said, "We just have to see" how the details and financial and other implications of such a service would look. A Dish-Disney deal announced last week "provided a lot of value" to Disney, he suggested, but said such short-term benefits must be weighed against longer-term effects.

E-mail: Georg.Szalai@THR.com
Twitter: @georgszalai

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