Discovery Boss Warns U.K. Government Against Media Protectionism

Discovery Communications

David Zaslav calls for “a level-playing field” that doesn’t exclude U.S. companies, and admits “we lost the battle” with Apple.

CAMBRIDGE, England – Discovery president David Zaslav Thursday warned the British government not to exclude U.S. companies from being able to compete freely in the U.K. in new media regulation.

Speaking at the Royal Television Society Cambridge Convention, Zaslav said that the global factual producer would not continue investing upwards of $330 million a year in the U.K. if media regulation was changed to favor homegrown players.

“To be able to keep investing in this market … we are looking for a level playing field and a light touch,” he said.

Discovery, which has 13 channels in the U.K. including Discovery Channel, is a major co-producer of natural history and factual content here, with long relationships with British players including the BBC.

“We create a lot of value in this market and consider it our home,” Zaslav told an audience of British TV executives. 

“It should stay even-handed and if it does it will continue to be a great market. We should be careful about making any changes.”

His comments come a day after Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt hinted that the government would look at ways to redraw ownership boundaries in a bid to prevent a company like News Corp. from acquiring BSkyB.

Under the existing legislation that deal could not have been prevented, but Hunt said yesterday that the government was looking at changing the basis on which such decisions are evaluated in new legislation expected to be enforced within two years.

Elsewhere in his keynote Zaslav said that companies needed to retain program rights and admitted that Discovery and a host of other broadcasters had lost out when they allowed their content on platforms like iTunes.

“We didn’t win the branding war and we didn’t win the fight for the value,” he said.

“We helped sell those devices, and that’s worth thinking about.”

Speaking after the conference keynote he said: “If you look at the economic it is super a la carte. There is an imbalance and they got most of the value.”

Zaslav also said that Discovery would continue to launch new free-to-air channels in selected European markets. It has recently launched female-skewing lifestyle channels in Spain and Italy and has had a free-to-air channel DMAX in Germany for some years.

Although Discovery has a mainly cable and satellite-focused strategy in Europe, more free-to-air channels are under consideration.

“Our core strategy is combine revenue cable, but in selected markets we can come in and launch free-to-air channels in a very inexpensive way,” Zaslav added.