BBC to Talk to Discovery About 2022, 2024 Olympics Rights

Associated Press

France Televisions and Germany’s ARD and ZDF are among the other big European public broadcasters that have long aired Summer and Winter Games and must now negotiate possible sublicensing deals.

Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav on Monday lauded the company’s $1.45 billion European TV and multiplatform rights deal for the 2018-2024 Olympics as a "game changer" for the company and its pan-European network Eurosport.

But it will also have a major effect on public broadcasters in various European countries, such as on Britain’s BBC, France Televisions in France and Germany’s ARD and ZDF. They are among the big traditional broadcasters of the Summer and Winter Games in Europe.

Zaslav said on a conference call on Monday that "we hope" to be sub-licensing rights in many, especially strategic, markets to free-to-air networks and retaining cable network rights. But the company also has free-to-air channels in various markets. "We will be looking at every opportunity" for deals, Zaslav said without committing to any specific markets. And he lauded past Olympics coverage in such markets as the U.K., Germany and France.

Discovery Networks International president JB Perrette said on the Monday call that the company was "very open" to deals and would look to "maximize the exposure and value of the games." He added: "We haven’t started the conversations."

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said Discovery has committed to airing a minimum of 200 hours of the Summer Games and 100 hours of the Olympic Winter Games on free-to-air TV during the events.

Still, one sports TV market observer said public broadcasters would see the Discovery deal as a blow and a move signaling the arrival of a new competitor/possible partner.

In France, public broadcaster France Televisions has the rights to the 2018 and 2020 Olympics, followed by Discovery in 2022 and 2024. IOC and Discovery executives said Monday that there could be talks in many markets that could see Discovery sublicense at least some of the content rights.

"The Olympic Games remain a priority for the BBC and we have already secured the TV, radio and online rights to the next three Olympic Games — 2016, 2018 and 2020," said a BBC spokesperson. "More than 90 percent of the U.K. population watched the BBC's coverage of London 2012 and it remains one of the most popular free-to-air sporting events for U.K. viewers. It is not unprecedented for sports rights to be sold on a pan-territory basis, and the BBC has acquired other sports rights via sublicensing deals with either agencies or broadcasters."

Without saying whether the BBC had bid for the rights to the 2022 and 2024 Games, the representative added: "We will be seeking further discussions with Discovery about the U.K. free-to-air rights to the 2022 and 2024 Olympic Games in due course."

Zaslav said: "The BBC will have the chance to sub-license some of the rights."

Asked on Monday’s call if the ARD and ZDF should be considered out of the running for the years for which Discovery has the Olympics, IOC president Thomas Bach said: "They are ready to enter into negotiations and agreements."

Germany’s ARD and ZDF said it was not immediately clear what effect the deal would have on German TV, German news agency dpa reported.

It cited a joint statement from the broadcasters saying they "acknowledged" the IOC decision to strike a deal with Discovery, but highlighted that they were long-time partners of the IOC and had made "suitable" offers to the IOC.

Twitter: @georgszalai