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Discovery Mulls Joint Bids for Major Sports Rights for Eurosport

David Zaslav plays down hopes for acquisition of U.K. free TV network Channel 5

LONDON — Discovery Communications is preparing to up its game in the sports rights field as it eyes further premium contests for Eurosport, in which it holds a majority stake.

Eurosport is a bigger platform than ESPN on cable in the U.S. and it reaches more people,” David Zaslav, Discovery’s chief executive, said Thursday at the FT Digital Media conference in London. “The question is what we do about that. If we look at big sports rights we will be careful about it, we are going to be thoughtful about it.”

Zaslav has had discussions with potential partners about making joint bids for premium sports contests, such as English soccer’s Premier League, and European soccer’s Champions League. Potential partners for a Premier League bid include Rupert Murdoch-controlled stacaster BSkyB and cabler Virgin Media, which is owned by John Malone’s Liberty Global, a leading shareholder in Discovery, the Guardian reported.

“We have had a lot of conversations with a lot of players in local markets looking for partners as sports rights come up,” he said. “We will be be keen to look at what is available. We are cognizant of the fact that this is a great brand … that could really emerge as a premier sports brand here in the U.K., and Western and Eastern Europe.”

Zaslav was careful not commit himself to chasing expensive sports rights.

“Most of what’s on Eurosport is locked in for next several years — tennis, winter sports and cycling — we have the core sports,” he said. “We have a real advantage keeping the costs of second level sports manageable. The question is do we go up a level. In some cases taking a big swing might make sense to do in a joint bidding. In some cases it might make sense to leave bigger high-end sports to big broadcasters. We’ll just have to see.”

Discovery is bidding for U.K. free TV channel Channel 5, and Zaslav reaffirmed his interest in the territory, even if the Channel 5 deal isn’t closed.

“It is hard to tell what happens with specific media assets,” he said. “It has been positioned for sale. Sometimes that ends with a buyer and sometimes it doesn’t. We will see how that turns out. The U.K. is a place we’d like to continue to invest.”

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