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Discovery’s Eurovision

Eurosport CEO Peter Hutton has overseen dramatic change in just four months of stewardship of the Discovery-owned broadcaster. Matt Cutler travelled to Paris to ask him about the future ambitions of the company.

John McEnroe is one of sport’s most popular personalities: a seven-time grand slam singles winner as famous now for his outspoken punditry as he was for his on-court outbursts in the late-1970s and 1980s.

At the French Open in Paris last month, McEnroe was up to his usual tricks, wandering around the Roland Garros complex like a demi-god in between stints of commentary for sports broadcaster ESPN in the United States.

Eurosport has traditionally shared rights with national broadcasters, but we have to become the home of exclusive rights

However, McEnroe was also making headlines with comments about the French Open being too long and security for players at the event not being good enough. He made the comments, which were widely picked up in media across the world, on Eurosport’s daily Game, Set and Mats show presented by Mats Wilander.

McEnroe was on the magazine programme after becoming a member of Eurosport’s on-air talent team, an agreement that came about as part of a new direction for the broadcaster under the leadership of CEO Peter Hutton and its parent company Discovery Communications.
American media giant Discovery, whose pay-TV channels – including the Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet, Velocity and Discovery Life – reach three billion cumulative subscribers in more than 220 territories, acquired Eurosport in May 2014 and hired Hutton in March this year.

Hutton says signing someone like McEnroe – and 18-time singles grand-slam winner Chris Evert, who also joined the Eurosport team this year – is an example of how he and his bosses are evolving the 26-year-old sports broadcaster’s strategy to increase its share in every market it operates in, which currently numbers 54 regions across the world.

“It was a massive step to bring both Chris Evert and John McEnroe to our team and a great symbol of change,” he says. “It’s a sign we are investing to make content better with bigger personalities that everybody recognises.

“Pay-TV and sport in Europe, for lots of people, has meant Eurosport. The challenge now is taking that fantastic heritage and tradition and changing it into a different size of business, one that is far more locally relevant and shows the biggest sports events in each individual market.”

The Four Ps

Hutton, who joined Eurosport having most recently been co-CEO of sports rights agency MP & Silva, says the new strategy for Eurosport is split internally into “four Ps”: programming, production, promotion and platforms.

Programming is the most important element: acquiring more premium, regionally-relevant and exclusive rights. And following exclusive deals to show MLS (Major League Soccer) in all European territories bar the UK from 2015 (March) and the UEFA Champions League in Singapore from 2015/16 (April), a number of additional deals were announced at the start of June including the UEFA Europa League – exclusive coverage in Scandinavia and Singapore from 2015/16 – and the Italian and French top-tier football leagues in the Netherlands from 2015/16.

“Eurosport has traditionally shared rights with national broadcasters, but we have to become the home of exclusive rights. And we also have to make our channels more local, showing sport that is relevant to a local audience,” adds Hutton.

“I’ve said from the start we need to strengthen our football content, and I’m delighted in the Netherlands we’ve signed a package of different football content [that also includes the French League Cup and the pre-season Emirates Cup tournament] as it gives us a huge volume of exclusive live football. Italy’s Serie A is particularly important because so many Dutch stars play there.

“Taking the UEFA Champions League in Singapore happened in the first week I was in the job; it’s a great deal because it showed us doing exactly what we want to be doing: taking major rights, changing a market and putting Eurosport at the centre of that market from an audience’s perspective.”

Strengthening Eurosport’s portfolio of properties at the top end will also be supplemented by shedding several sports properties that have been underperforming from a ratings perspective. SportBusiness International understands that these programmes include Eurosport’s equestrian events, its WWE magazine shows, timbersports (a series of wood chopping competitions) and the World’s Strongest Man competition.

And though many observers have suggested Eurosport’s new ownership and evolving strategy mean it will now pay top dollar for any rights property that goes on the market, Hutton is keen to point out that looking to acquire exclusive and premium rights does not mean Eurosport is opening a war chest.

“Eurosport’s competitive advantage is its scale when it comes to rights negotiations. The reality is, though, that the cost of sports rights at the top end are increasing and will continue to do so,” adds Hutton.

“It doesn’t get the headlines, but there are plenty of other sports content that are the same price now [for Eurosport] as they were 10 years ago…Eurosport can guarantee distribution in multiple ways and it can guarantee promotion with the Discovery network behind it.”

The Discovery Network

With Eurosport now part of the Discovery network of channels, advertising teams have the ability to offer a greater set of packages to brands across a greater number of channels, while the economies of scale should, in theory, result in better platform carriage deals for both Eurosport and its sister channels.

Hutton also says the Discovery network will offer significant opportunities to cross-promote sports programming: “Bringing a new audience into sport is the easiest thing to say and the most difficult thing to do.

“Cross-promoting across the Discovery channels, getting their stars to talk about our events – that’s what we want to be doing. We’ve seen examples with [men’s lifestyle channel] DMAX in Germany that showed bits of MotoGP live and built its content around our content. That’s what Discovery can bring to big sporting events and hopefully we’ll be able to announce more of that in the coming months.”

Eurosport can also learn from the senior team at Discovery about the best ways to acquire rights internationally but tell stories regionally, according to Hutton. A test case of how effectively it can do that from scratch will be seen with the launch of Eurosport Denmark at the beginning of this month.

“When I came in I was wondering about the connection between Discovery and sport, but much of it is the same – it’s about finding the right story, telling it in the right way and making it more relevant to an audience,” says Hutton.

“Roland Garros is a great example of that: in Spain, Roland Garros is all about [Rafa] Nadal, in the UK it’s all about [Andy] Murray, in Denmark it’s about [Caroline] Wozniacki, in Romania it is [Simona] Halep. We have to face that challenge and tell the story from those different perspectives.”

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