Warner Bros. Discovery aspires to become a “global operator” in sports

There is a new contender in the arena.

As Discovery begins its new era of operating Warner Bros., HBO and Turner, all eyes are on how the new company will navigate the media sector’s streaming wars with thousands of hours of content from TV brands. such as TLC, TBS, TNT, CNN and HBO. Behind that effort, Variety reportsa new sports giant is poised to add another deep pocket player vying for major league deals he previously ignored.

Warner Bros. Discovery, the newly merged company, will house not only Turner Sports in the US, but also Eurosport, a French television network that owns the European rights to broadcast the Olympic Games and is available in 54 countries. In February, Discovery began talks that would combine Eurosport’s UK business with BT Sport’s in Britain and Ireland, creating another offshore beachhead. Turner already enjoys a significant relationship with the NBA; shared rights to the NCAA March Madness basketball championships; and rights to Major League Baseball and National Hockey League games.

Many of America’s traditional sports providers may need to give the company once known as Discovery a new look. “I think Discovery-Warner, led by David Zaslav, will have a real appetite to develop their sports content, and they are likely to be at the table for major premium sports rights deals over the next 36 months,” says Hillary Mandel, Executive Vice President . president and head of media for the Americas of IMG, in an interview. “They will be a global operator in the same way that Disney, Comcast, Paramount, Amazon and Apple are.”

The new media giant arrives on the scene as sports rights have become increasingly critical to the health of the traditional pay-TV business. As more consumers choose to stream their favorite dramas, comedies and reality shows on demand, live sports broadcasts represent one of the few things that can generate the huge crowds that Madison Avenue craves and television distributors still want. . Rights fees have skyrocketed from exorbitant to prohibitive – watch Fox’s decision to sideline Thursday night football a season ahead of schedule so he can focus on the sports he thinks best suit his audience and business, and any interest in fighting from Zaslav’s empire will only create a more intense atmosphere at the negotiating table.

Most top-tier American sports are locked down for the time being. The NFL, MLB and NHL have all recently signed new rights deals that will keep them on the sidelines for years to come. Even so, Discovery is likely to find that it has little time to rest. Anticipated talks with the NBA, whose rights pact with Turner and Disney is expected to expire after the 2024-2025 season, could quickly unravel over the next 12 months. And there may be some college-level sports rights coming up in the not-too-distant future.

Discovery’s next steps in sports likely won’t be known until the company hires a new executive to oversee it all. On Thursday, the company revealed that it was “actively seeking to fill the position of Chairman and CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery Sports,” which will report to Zaslav. Lenny Daniels, president of Turner Sports, and Patrick Crumb, president of the company’s regional sports networks, will report to the new hire.

Discovery’s key advantage is that it can offer global reach through traditional streaming and production services that many tech giants have struggled to replicate. Consider Amazon’s new coverage of Thursday night football is produced with the help of NBC Sports, while Apple’s new baseball broadcast coverage is a product of the league’s MLB Network.

“There will be opportunities to do joint international deals for some properties, easily,” says Patrick Crakes, a former Fox Sports executive who now works as a media industry consultant.

That may be what many of the leagues will be looking for in the coming months. Streaming gives them the opportunity not only to reach young consumers who are abandoning traditional cable and satellite subscriptions and linear viewing, but also to reach fans in countries where the games aren’t typically seen. Indeed, in recent months, Paramount Plus has gone after UEFA Champions League rights, while ESPN signed a deal with LaLiga.

Discovery has tried in recent years to do the opposite. He has focused on bringing American sports abroad. In 2019, the company launched GolfTV, a broadcast joint venture with the PGA Tour, enlisting Tiger Woods to create content and programming as part of a far-reaching deal and laying out ambitious plans to have the product available worldwide by 2024. .

Expect the company to shed more of its sporting weight in foreign countries. “Eurosport in the UK has always been a distant third to Sky and BT,” says Daniel Cohen, senior vice president of media rights consulting at Octagon, an Interpublic Group sports management firm. “Now, you combine that entity and you’re going to have some real strength in a top-tier market that hasn’t had a lot of competition.”

At home, Turner has already begun to look to the future. Its most recent rights deal with the NHL and US Soccer requires the ability to stream games on HBO Max, opening up the possibility for that venue to be seen as a sports hub as well as a venue for high-end scripted movies and series. quality. And the company has worked to highlight a number of celebrity golf matches that attract big ad sponsorships but aren’t dependent on rights deals with leagues.

The only thing that would really surprise the sports world is if Discovery refused to take a swing at any big sports rights package that might come along. “I think they have to become more aggressive players in this space,” says Cohen.


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