The Heat Is On As Discovery Goes For Olympic Gold Streaming

Gold isn’t the only medal that matters, whether at the Olympics or the streaming wars, where any podium should prove to be a brilliant and lucrative outcome.

Six years on from its Olympic rights craze, US television giant Discovery Communications – the main rights holder to Tokyo 2020 in much of Europe – is only gearing up for its outright assault on the streaming.

This is a race where Netflix, Disney Plus, and Prime Video (all tied to Amazon’s giant ecommerce project) appear to be untouchable forerunners. But there could still be plenty of winners who claim the triumph of subscription revenue and give themselves a victory lap – as long as they don’t put their own money in the effort.

Discovery entered the competition in 2015 when it took full control of the also operated sports channel Eurosport, and then shelled out $ 1.3 billion for the broadcast rights to the Summer and Winter Olympics in the Most European countries from 2018 to 2024, and for 2022 and 2024 in the United Kingdom and France.

Eurosport has now duly prepared its mixed reality “Cube”, a London-based studio that merges the real with the virtual, making its interviewees filmed remotely appear to be in the same room as the presenters asking the questions. It looks cool and also happens to be pandemic-friendly.

This featured coverage of Tokyo 2020 will always be on RTÉ, meaning most viewers won’t be aware of Discovery’s expensive intervention, stemming in part from a legislative obligation on the company to make at least part of it. free television rights. This is thanks to the presence of the Summer Olympics on the government’s list of “major events”.

As other EU countries have similar listings, Discovery has spent the years following its removal of rights negotiating a series of sublicensing agreements in an effort to comply with regulations and generate useful income while retaining the ability to market itself as “Home of the Olympics”.

RTÉ quickly struck a deal without sweating too much in public, but the process was more bumpy in Germany, where the German version of Eurosport is free anyway. Two rounds of talks were needed with public service broadcasters ARD and ZDF, who backed down from the original price and at one point chose to ditch the Olympics rather than overpay.

Inside Biz 14th

Niche interests

As much as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) likes to play the image of the Games as a cohesive extravaganza, with all events unified by the same idealistic “spirit”, for many viewers the Olympic Games are just an eclectic collection of sports. niche, some of them very niche indeed.

For Discovery, looking for new registrations to the Discovery Plus application (€ 59.99 per year, reduced to € 29.99 for registrations before August), the market is marginal. Want to watch gymnastics or tennis but the linear channels all show swimming and rowing? The full menu of on-demand options is for sale through Discovery.

The app, which succeeds Eurosport Player, which is no longer in production, includes a bunch of other content owned by the fact-based TV giant, such as “Best of Gold Rush, 90 Day Fiancé and Ghost Adventures.” If memory serves, Discovery loves sharks and trucks too, so if sharks, trucks, ghosts and seeing every minute of modern pentathlon are your bag, this could be the app for you.

In less entertaining developments, a stadium-sized shadow has darkened over Discovery’s great thrust fueled by the Olympics. The company’s first response to the postponement of the Games to March 2020 was to withdraw its financial guidance for the full year and withdraw $ 500 million from a revolving credit facility to consolidate its balance sheet.

An activist holds a sign in front of the hotel where the President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach is staying in Tokyo. Photograph: Yuki Iwamura / AFP

It then moved on to a more optimistic phase, with chief executive David Zaslav suggesting that 2021 could turn out “a little better” as Tokyo’s temporal proximity to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics would allow it to market both Games. together.

The virus did not cooperate with this optimism. Yes, Tokyo 2020 is moving forward from this Friday, but it will do so amid hostility that in retrospect has made the locals fiercely opposed to previous Games. Japan does not celebrate the Olympic Games, it endures them.

Even in the history of the Games, which failed to live up to the dove-accessorized “Olympism” perpetuated by the IOC, there has never been anything like seeing the main sponsor Toyota withdraw all the Olympic-themed advertisements on Japanese television for fear of being associated with the hated event.

From the dismal sight of empty venues to the chaos of athletes testing positive for Covid, the circumstances don’t exactly help broadcasters trying to bask in the reflected glory of athletic success.

Teaming up

Discovery can perhaps be reassured that it isn’t the only mainstream TV broadcaster vying to use the Olympics to boost its streaming efforts and compete with Disney and Big Tech. In the United States, NBC – owned by Sky’s parent company, Comcast – is hoping the Games will spur interest in its fledgling streamer Peacock.

But it’s a testament to the high-risk investment ladder demanded by the global streaming business that Discovery no longer intends to compete on its own. In May, he announced his intention to merge with AT&T’s WarnerMedia – from HBO Max and renowned Warner Bros. – and form a new company which will be 29% owned by Discovery shareholders and 71% by shareholders of AT&T, with Zaslav as CEO.

Now John Malone, the Irish-American billionaire who controls cable giant Liberty Global (owner of Virgin Media Ireland) and has a voting stake of over 25% in Discovery, predicts Warner Bros. Discovery may challenge the positions of medals streaming.

“I think we’re not only going to be the third such platform, but I think we’ll be very competitive with the other two,” he told CNBC.

It’s good to have ambitions. In the meantime, the consolidation of the media industry could become an Olympic event again, if only to prevent solo runners from overtaking themselves and collapsing on the track.

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