Discovery CEO Talks Auction for U.K.'s Channel 5, Possible Soccer Rights Bid

Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav

"The U.K. is a place we'd like to continue to invest," says David Zaslav and hints that Eurosport could partner on sports rights deals.

LONDON – Discovery Communications sees more upside in the U.K. market, CEO David Zaslav said here Thursday.

Speaking at the Financial Times Digital Media Conference, he was asked about the current auction of British broadcaster Channel 5, in which Discovery is seen as a lead contender, and whether Eurosport International, in which his company recently agreed to take a majority stake, could bid for English Premier League soccer rights.

The U.K. is Discovery's biggest market outside the U.S. British entrepreneur Richard Desmond recently launched an auction for his Channel 5, which has drawn bids from Discovery, Viacom and others.

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With Desmond eyeing a price tag of more than $1.1 billion, some industry observers have wondered whether any suitor will end up offering that much and whether he could scrap the auction.

"It is hard to tell what happens with specific media assets, [but] it has been positioned for sale," Zaslav told the conference on Thursday, the Guardian said. "Sometimes that ends with a buyer and sometimes it doesn't. We will see how that turns out."

But he emphasized: "The U.K. is a place we'd like to continue to invest."

Given that interest in Britain, Zaslav was also asked if Eurosport could be a bidder in the upcoming three-year Premier League TV rights auction, could start later this year.

"Most of what's on Eurosport is locked in for next several years – tennis, winter sports and cycling – we have the core sports," he said. "We have a real advantage keeping the costs of second level sports manageable. The question is do we go up a level. In some cases, taking a big swing might make sense to do in a joint bidding. In some cases, it might make sense to leave bigger, high-end sports to big broadcasters. We'll just have to see."

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But Zaslav also touted the reach of Eurosport. "Eurosport is a bigger platform than ESPN on cable in the U.S. and it reaches more people," the Guardian quoted him as saying. "The question is what we do about that. If we look at big sports rights, we will be careful about it, we are going to be thoughtful about it."

Expanding on the notion that joint sports rights bids could be a way to go for Eurosport, Zaslav said: "We have had a lot of conversations with a lot of players in local markets looking for partners as sports rights come up." Discussing the Premier League specifically, he said: "We are cogniscent of the fact that this is a great brand…that could really emerge as a premier sports brand here in the U.K. and Western and Eastern Europe."

The Guardian suggested that Discovery could jointly bid with BSkyB, which has long aired most Premier League games. Telecom giant BT is seen as a less likely partner, but the paper also mentioned British cable giant Virgin Media, owned by John Malone's Liberty Global, as a possible suitor and Discovery partner.

Twitter: @georgszalai


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