Discovery Buys The Olympics In Europe

Well here’s something a little unexpected. Discovery has swooped in and bought exclusive Olympic rights across Europe for €1.3 billion for the years 2018-2024.

In the UK, the BBC already had a deal in place that stretched out until the 2020 summer games in Tokyo, as does France TV. But the BBC would not have automatic coverage of the 2022 winter games or the 2024 summer games.

Discovery bought Eurosport last year, and this potentially gives them something big to play with. But there are some interesting questions to be asked about the whole deal.

First of all, the UK, like some other European nations, has “Listed Events” – sporting events that are considered so important that they’re protected. “The Olympic Games” falls into Category A in its entirety, which means it must be made freely available live to UK audiences. As it stands, the only broadcasters that meet that requirement are BBC1, BBC2, ITV, C4 and Channel 5 (not all Freeview muxes cover the whole of the UK. Look out for some annoyed football fans who won’t be able to see BT Sport Showcase on Freeview, for example).

The UK isn’t alone – according to an Ofcom document, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland and Italy all also have listed events that include at least some of the Olympics.

While legislation might have changed by 2022, it should be noted that the most recent attempt to amend it, in 2009, was in the ignored by government.

In any case, Discovery’s CEO David Daslav says that events might be sub-licenced to the BBC (or another broadcaster one imagines).

What’ll be interesting to learn is the detail of the IOC’s agreement.

There are some particular lines in the press release to warrant examination:

“In a world of increasingly “anytime, anywhere” viewing, the Olympic Games are an unparalleled live event that aggregate enormous audiences and capture the world’s attention in a way that continues to become more valuable for marketers, distributors and fans.”

Well it’s good to know fans come first…

“This agreement ensures comprehensive coverage of the Olympic Games across Europe, including the guarantee to provide extensive free-to-air television coverage in all territories.”

That doesn’t say “live.” And it’s not clear how it’ll be delivered.

UK viewers were perhaps spoilt in 2012, when coverage was as complete as possible anywhere on the planet – every minute of every event streamed live, and on platforms like Sky Digital and Freesat, all in HD, free of charge. Beyond that, it was all on iPlayer too. Will that be bettered? The bar is pretty high already.

“Consistent with IOC and local market requirements, Discovery has committed to broadcasting a minimum of 200 hours of the Olympic Games and 100 hours of the Olympic Winter Games on free-to-air television during the Games period. Discovery will sub-license a portion of the rights in many markets across Europe.”

To put that in perspective, in the UK, viewers had 2,500 hours of coverage in 2012.

“This new partnership is an exciting win for European sports fans as we will deliver record amounts of content across platforms to ensure the Olympic flame burns bright all year long.”

It’s not really a “win” if it costs European sports fans more than it currently does.

Then there’s the Olympic Charter. Section 48.1 says:

The IOC takes all necessary steps in order to ensure the fullest coverage by the different media and the widest possible audience in the world for the Olympic Games.

That would seem to infer that delivery of the Olympics via Discovery/Eurosport will need to at least match what is currently being delivered. It’ll be interesting to see how that works in the UK. Judging by the line above, it seems that 200 hours of coverage of the summer games is deemed enough.

A big part of this deal is that Discovery will activity promote the IOC’s planned Olympic TV channel – hence the line about “all year long.”

Although quite what this will show between games is still unclear. Rights to events of any value tend to be bought by other pay-TV sports channels or free-to-air broadcasters. And repeats of a dressage event from two years ago are of relatively little interest (Not that this stops Skys Sports F1 filling hours of its schedule with repeats. The F1 season is at least annual, and runs for much of the year).

One final thought. If access to the Olympics were to become in some way limited to UK viewers, the question should then be asked, why are National Lottery proceeds being directed to sports men and women who viewers will have limited access to seeing achieving their goals? I think this same question can be asked of any sport that locks out a proportion of the general public by selling their rights to pay TV providers.

4 Comments

  1. Back in the TF1 era, Eurosport broadcast many hours of Olympic coverage alongside the BBC.

    Discovery do already have two slots on Freeview (Quest and Quest+1). I suppose a basic Eurosport is possible, like in the analogue days. I suspect much more likely they’ll try and resell them to a PSB.

  2. Well rights used to be sold to the EBU which essentially gave access to many broadcasters. Even as recently as the 2012 games there was plenty of coverage on Eurosport, with Sky lending them capacity to broadcast in 3D.

    It’s hard to second guess what the broadcast environment will look like in 2022, but utilising SD Freeview slots doesn’t feel like a realistic plan at a time when even 4k will be potentially becoming normal. But selling the lions’ share to a PSB would be the obvious route.

  3. It may be worth considering IPTV, either via connected Freeview or streaming boxes could be the way for Discovery/Eurosport to get round the linear capacity issues they have.

    IPTV should have grown to the extent that it’s the default option in most Freeview homes by 2022 for extra channels, either through Freeview Connect or NOW TV.

  4. I suspect that IPTV will have grown reasonably by 2022. The question will be what proportion of the population has internet access to enable it. At the moment’s it’s in 82% of homes (Ofcom, Comms Market Review 2014). While you would think that in 8 years this should have moved on significantly, it’s worth noting that the elderly (32% of over 75s currently) and the poor (67% of DEs currently) are the big “hold-outs” preventing this number getting higher. And we’re going to need to lose the idea of metered internet to really make mass-market IPTV viable.

    I think all of this is a real issue for any IP-only services. A case in point would be the BBC Three proposals.

    Assuming that somehow the poor and elderly have been mopped up and provided with access to make IPTV viable, there’s a potential for Discovery to go down that route. But it also requires considerable IP backbone infrastructure changes, particularly in the mobile environment.

    I suspect that it might still be in Discovery’s interests and more profitable to sell the rights to another party. I wouldn’t be surprised if they genuinely don’t know how they will monetise these rights at this moment in time, and will work out a solution closer to the time. Potential technological and regulatory changes make second guessing things today a fool’s game.

    Either way, this isn’t quite the bet that NBC has made with rights through until 2032. Who has any idea how we’ll be watching the Olympics then?

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