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Sports,Global

Early Days For Eurosport Makeover

A year after taking full control of Eurosport, Discovery has been putting the sports network’s new rights strategy into practice, mixing regional scale with some targeted local deals.

This has included some opportunistic bets, including three years of European Champions League football in Singapore for example, while taking on some bigger, longer-term properties, exemplified by a US$1.4 billion swoop on multiplatform rights for the Olympics across Europe from 2018 to 2024.

“We’ve clearly got money to spend, and investment from Discovery to change the brand, but that investment has to be against prime content,” said Eurosport’s CEO Peter Hutton, speaking on the sidelines of Discovery's international media briefing earlier this month.

While short-term assets can help connect with fans in local markets, Eurosport is focusing its investments on areas where it can build long-term relationships, Hutton explained.

As people become more particular about what they watch, the move is in line with broader efforts by Discovery to deepen ties with specific audience segments.

“The real focus of your effort has to be on what you can genuinely provide a unique service around, and therefore become the natural home of that sport,” Hutton told Media Business Asia.

That model, which has been deployed for cycling and Grand Slam tennis, also applies to the Olympics, he added.

“We shouldn’t see the road to 2024 as being the end of that journey but more about building up the trust with the IOC, to then be in the right position to renew,” Hutton said.

Long-Term Turnaound

Hutton compares the job of repositioning Eurosport to turning around a big boat, wryly noting that big boats tend to have long turning circles.

It’s a transition from standalone profitability to helping drive Discovery’s business as a whole, opening up new investment horizons and approaches to content.

So far, much of that investment – including more than US$5 billion in upfront commitments in sports IP – has been in Europe. The continent remains the bedrock for Eurosport, especially in Germany where it is distributed free-to-air.

Asia is significantly smaller, although Hutton wants to see more activity in growth markets in particular. The goal is to develop Eurosport as a driver channel that holds sway in negotiations with pay-TV operators.

“Traditionally in Asia, it’s not been that,” he noted. “In Europe, it’s increasingly becoming that. Our ambition in Asia is to take the change we’ve achieved in Europe, and now try to replicate that in Asia as well.”

Eurosport has made a notable play to around rugby in Asia, after buying the Asian assets of Setanta, a rugby pay channel, last year.

Since then, it has added more rights, recently including next year’s Six Nations tournament across most of East and Southeast Asia (excluding Japan and Singapore).

Earlier this year, Discovery also bought a minority stake in RugbyPass, a specialist SVOD service priced at US$14.99/month covering 23 territories in the region.

Those acquisitions will be matched by better coverage of the sport, Hutton pledges, including improved scheduling, to ensure fans are happy to keep paying.

Similarly, possible forays into specific markets – following a ramp-up local feeds and production in Europe – will be anchored around dedicated programming as well as rights.

“If we go, we go big and we go relevant and we go local,” Hutton said.

“That means investing in production and languaging,” he added. “It’s not good enough to be an English-language service in Asia. There is no future in that sort of business.”

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