Eurosport retains exclusive elements as ARD-ZDF sign off on Olympics rights
By Martin Ross
The long-awaited acquisition of Olympics rights in Germany by public-service broadcasters ARD and ZDF from Discovery Communications has now been signed off by both sides, with certain events from the PyeongChang 2018 winter games held back for exclusive coverage on the media giant’s Eurosport platforms.
ARD and ZDF will continue their long-standing coverage of the Olympics after SportA, their rights buying agency, struck a four-games agreement for live and highlights rights with Discovery, as reported by Sportcal last month.
The sub-licensing deal, which remains subject to the approval of the relevant broadcasting councils in Germany, was announced this morning and comes after Discovery had announced in November last year that it planned to retain exclusive rights after talks with the public-service duo failed to lead to an accord.
ARD and ZDF are understood to be paying around €250 million ($293.5 million) for the rights across four games as Discovery comes close to reaching the target fee it was holding out for at the end of last year.
Signs of some progress in talks came last month as ARD and ZDF attended a site meeting in PyeongChang, where the winter Olympics will begin in under six months’ time.
Eurosport has retained exclusivity over live rights to certain events at those games, including the ice hockey tournament (excluding Germany’s matches and the final), figure skating, short track speed skating and snowboarding.
Eurosport 1, which is available on a free-to-air basis in Germany, will be the focal point of the broadcaster’s output from PyeongChang as a channel dedicated to the games.
In addition, Eurosport retains exclusivity over a free-to-air prime-time Olympics highlights programme at next year’s winter Olympics.
ARD and ZDF are restricted to three digital feeds from PyeongChang, allowing Eurosport to showcase its extensive output of live feeds of all sports on its television channels and Eurosport Player, the OTT service. From the Tokyo 2020 Olympics onwards, the public broadcasters will continue to alternate coverage on their linear channels from day to day, but will be less restricted in terms of digital output.
ARD and ZDF have come under public pressure since November’s announcement, and ZDF is sure to have been particularly keen to return to the negotiating table after losing out on retaining the Uefa Champions League from 2018-19 onwards, while saving the €60 million per season it currently pays for those rights.
While going it alone in Germany was sure to boost Eurosport’s audiences, OTT subscriber numbers and advertising revenues, the lack of a deal in one of Europe’s major markets threatened to leave a gaping hole in Discovery’s sub-licensing revenues.
Having spent €1.3 billion on the rights across Europe (excluding Russia) from 2018 to 2024, Discovery now looks on target to hit its rights sales target, albeit tough negotiations remain ongoing in Italy, Portugal, Spain and Turkey. With a German deal now agreed, Discovery is now only scheduled to retain full exclusivity to PyeongChang 2018 in Norway and Sweden.
ARD and ZDF spent around €115 million on the rights to the Sochi 2014 winter Olympics and Rio 2016 Olympics in a deal negotiated directly with the International Olympic Committee.
Discovery’s Olympic rights swoop dealt a blow to the European Broadcasting Union and its member public-service broadcasters, including ARD and ZDF, and the German broadcasters actually submitted a standalone bid for the rights for 2018 onwards, separately from the EBU’s offer.
ARD and ZDF offered a record 340 hours of television coverage, including 280 hours live, of the 2016 Olympics, and also streamed over 1,000 hours of live coverage from the games.
‘Struggle worth it’ Thomas Bellut, the ZDF director who had previously said he would “make the IOC miss us” through its coverage of different Olympic sports, today offered a more conciliatory tone.
He commented: “The struggle for the live rights has been worth it. Our audience can now count on the games being presented in the usual quality of ZDF and ARD.”
Ulrich Wilhelm, ARD’s sports rights director, said: “We are delighted to have found a fair solution with Discovery or the broadcast of the Olympic Games. Together with Discovery, ARD and ZDF will show the Olympic Games on all platforms and transmission means.”
Volker Herres, programming director at ARD, added: “We have always emphasised the high programming value of the Olympic Games for public-service broadcasters in Germany. We feel all the more delighted that the long and intensive talks with Eurosport/Discovery have now led to a positive conclusion. It’s good news for sport and our viewers.”
Eurosport’s chief executive Peter Hutton remarked that the “long-term commitment between Discovery and ARD/ZDF is another example of our game-changing approach to premium live sport, empowering viewers to watch the biggest moments in sport whenever and however they choose.”
He continued: “For the Olympic Games, our ambition is to share the world’s greatest event with more people, on more screens, than ever before. Establishing free-to-air partnerships with the best national broadcasters across Europe, such as ARD/ZDF, will enable us to fulfil this transformational goal.”
Susanne Aigner-Drews, managing director of Discovery Networks Germany, stated: “We have discussed a partnership with ARD/ZDF for some time and our new collaboration, for the Olympic Games until 2024 shows our desire to put viewers first. They will enjoy unrivalled coverage and have the chance to follow every moment, through more than 100 events, for the first time with Eurosport.”