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Winter Games Provide First Test of Discovery’s Olympic Ambition

With the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics about to get underway, Peter Hutton, boss of Eurosport, is counting on its coverage of the Games to change the way people think about the service and generate a return on the $1.4 billion parent company Discovery shelled out for European rights in 2015.

“We believe it will be profitable, and we’re a long way down that road because we have already sold some of the sub-license rights through to 2024,” Hutton told Variety. “More important than that is the chance to change the perception of Eurosport to more than just a linear or a pan-EuropeanTV channel, into something that is about making sport accessible across multiple devices to all sorts of audiences.”

The Olympic Broadcasting Service films each event of the Games in its entirety, and making all of that footage available is feasible with the digital services that now exist alongside traditional linear channels. Eurosport will show every minute of the Games on its Eurosport Player streaming service. “It’s a first in Europe. Every minute live is a massive step forward,” Hutton said. “We will also curate things and make them accessible, but if you want every minute of an event you can get that.”

The wall-to-wall, multiscreen approach needs to be about more than just quantity. In terms of adding value to its output, Eurosport will offer 50 hours of VR coverage, and a AR and interactive content from a digital studio dubbed Eurosport Cube.

Six-time Olympic champion Bode Miller will be the face of the Cube and introduce interactivity such as “ghost” skiers, where a previous competitor’s run is overlaid with that of the next person on the course. “One of the frustrations around winter sports is it has been shown in the same way for many years,” Hutton said. “There’s no need to only judge two skiers against each other with the split time when you can use technology to see where one gained on the other.”

Eurosport has buddied up with Snapchat and social influencers to reach beyond the traditionally older Olympics audience. “We gave the IOC a commitment that we will put the Games on more screens than ever before,” Hutton said. “That’s very much about trying to bring in a younger audience. We know the TV audience for sport is an aging demographic….One of the benefits of a contract that goes through to 2024 is that we can see how we can grow the long-term audience.”

The business case for the Games adds up with Discovery’s myriad sub-licensing deals, but the longer-term play is about elevating Eurosport, which historically specialized in second-tier sports rights. Since Discovery took full control from French broadcaster TF1 in 2015, and with Hutton at the helm, it has started to elbow its way into the premium arena, nabbing Bundesliga and top-level soccer rights in Norway, Poland, and Sweden. “The type of content we are buying has changed,” the Eurosport chief said. “That also means giving up on some of that heritage. We are no longer the channel you come to taste a little bit of lots of sports. We want to be expert in certain sports and we want those sports to be quite mainstream.”

The Pyeongchang Games will provide valuable feedback for Eurosport, but plans are already afoot for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games. “We see it as a journey and if you look at what we are discussing for Tokyo 202,0 you will see another big leap forward in terms of, potentially, 8K coverage, more VR, and an enhanced experience,” Hutton said.

He himself won’t be along for the ride, however: Hutton is joining Facebook after Pyeongchang. His departure represents more than the loss of an extremely seasoned sports executive; it underlines the desire of the FAANGs to sink their teeth more deeply into live sports.

Just as Discovery makes it to the Olympics, a new wave of younger players is taking to the field.

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