There is a new competitor in the arena.
As Discovery begins its new era of running Warner Bros. And HBO and Turner, all eyes are on how the new company is navigating the live-streaming wars of the media sector with thousands of hours of content from popular TV brands like TLC, TBS, TNT, CNN and HBO. However, behind the effort could seem a new sports behemoth preparing to add another deep-pocketed player vying for major league negotiations he previously ignored.
It will be Warner Bros. Discovery, the newly merged company, is home to not only Turner Sports in the US, but also Eurosport, a French television network that holds the European rights to broadcast the Olympics and is available in 54 countries. In February, Discovery entered talks that would combine Eurosport’s business in the UK and BT Sport’s business in Britain and Ireland, creating another head-to-head overseas. Turner already has an important relationship with the NBA, and co-rights to the NCAA March Madness Basketball Tournament; and rights to participate in Major League Baseball and National Hockey League matches.
Many traditional American sports providers may have to give the company formerly known as Discovery a new look. “I believe that Discovery-Warner led by David Zaslav will have a real appetite to build their own sports content, and will likely be on the table for premier sports rights offerings over the next 36 months,” says Hilary Mandel, executive vice president and chief media officer for the Americas. At IMG, in an interview. “They will be a global operator like Disney, Comcast, Paramount, Amazon and Apple.”
New media giants have arrived on the scene as sports rights are more important than ever to the health of the traditional paid TV business. As more consumers choose to broadcast their favorite dramas, comedies and reality shows on demand, live sports TV is one of the few things that can generate the large crowds that Madison Avenue crave and TV distributors still want. Rights fees have skyrocketed from exorbitant to exorbitant – watch Fox’s decision to ditch “Thursday Night Football” a season ahead of schedule so it can focus on the sport it believes best suits its fans and business – and any interest in fighting from it won’t do Zaslav’s empire Only to create a more intense atmosphere at the negotiating table.
Most American top-tier sports are currently closed. The NFL, MLB, and NHL all recently signed new rights deals that will keep them on the sidelines for the next few years. However, Discovery will likely find that it has little time to rest. Early talks with the NBA, whose rights agreement with Turner and Disney is expected to expire after the 2024-2025 season, could take off quickly in the next 12 months. And there may be some college-level sports rights emerging in the not-too-distant future.
Discovery’s next steps in sports likely won’t be known until the company appoints a new executive to oversee everything. On Thursday, the company revealed that it is “actively looking for a position of president and CEO for Warner Bros. Discovery Sports,” which will report to Zaslav. Lenny Daniels, president of Turner Sports, and Patrick Crump, president of the company’s regional sports networks, will report to the new employee.
The main advantage of Discovery is its ability to provide global reach through broadcasting and traditional production services that many tech giants are under heavy pressure to replicate. Keep in mind that Amazon’s new coverage of “Friday Night Football” is being produced with the help of NBC Sports, while Apple’s new streaming baseball coverage is a product of the league’s MLB Network.
“There will be opportunities for joint international bids for some properties easily,” says Patrick Krakis, a former Fox Sports CEO who now serves as a consultant in the media industry.
This may be what many leagues will be looking for in the coming months. Streaming gives them an opportunity not only to reach young consumers who have given up traditional cable and satellite subscriptions and linear viewing, but to reach fans in countries where games are not usually watched. Indeed, in recent months, Paramount Plus scrambled after the UEFA Champions League rights while ESPN signed a deal with La Liga.
Discovery in recent years has tried to do the opposite. I’ve focused on taking American sports abroad. In 2019 the company launched GolfTV, a streaming joint venture with PGA Tour, recruiting Tiger Woods to create content and programming as part of a large-scale deal and developing ambitious plans to make the product available worldwide by 2024.
Expect the company to throw more of its sporting weight into foreign countries. “Eurosport in the UK has always been third behind Sky and BT,” says Daniel Cohen, senior vice president of media rights advisory at Octagon, a sports management company of the Interpublic Group. “Now, you integrate that entity, and you’re going to have some real power in a top-tier market that hasn’t had a lot of competition.”
At home, Turner is already beginning to look to the future. Its latest rights deal with NHL and US Soccer claims the ability to stream games on HBO Max – opening up the potential for this venue to be seen as a sports hub as well as a venue for high-quality movies and series. The company has worked to highlight a series of celebrity and golf matches that attract significant advertising sponsorships, but are not dependent on rights agreements with leagues.
The one thing that would really surprise the sports world would be if Discovery refused to swing any major sports rights package that might emerge. “I think they have to become a more aggressive player in this field,” Cohen says.
(Pictured: Charles Barkley, NBA on TNT host)