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Discovery chief tells U.K. to keep doors open

Zaslav asks for 'level playing field'

The head of Discovery has warned U.K. policymakers not to introduce rules that would make it difficult for non-British media firms to operate in Blighty.

In a keynote address Thursday at the Royal Television Society’s Cambridge Convention, Discovery Communications prexy-CEO David Zaslav urged pols to maintain the “level playing field” for non-U.K. domiciled media firms.

As pols prepare the ground for a new Communications Bill in the wake of the phone-hacking and police corruption scandal at News Corp., there could be pressure to make it more difficult for U.S. companies to run their businesses in Blighty.

“This is a fantastic market and a great home for us,” Zaslav said. “It should stay even-handed, and if it does, it will continue to be a great market. We should be careful about making any changes. There are some markets where there are disadvantages to outside players. We view ourselves as a U.K. player. There should be a level playing field.”

The U.K. is Discovery’s most important market after the U.S., and it broadcasts 12 channels in the U.K. compared with 13 in the U.S.

With Discovery’s international activities having grown from a $600 million business five years ago to today’s $1 billion, Zaslav stressed the importance of emerging markets such as Russia and Brazil in what was mostly an upbeat address.However, mindful of how technology companies like Apple had triumphed without any significant investment in content, the Discovery topper said that it was vital that his company found the right economic models for dealing with new platforms.

“Whether it’s Netflix, Amazon or Google, we have to work with these platforms,” Zaslav said. “The new connected devices also represent opportunities for us too. But we need to be careful. We can’t just take the biggest check.”

Maintaining a high profile for the Discovery brand was crucial.

In a rapidly evolving sector Zaslav suggested it was important to remain flexible.

Asked if Discovery would ever scale up its presence as a producer he said: “If there is significant consolidation in the future we could end up owning a studio.”

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