Following a secret joint bid from Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) and the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the broadcasting rights for the next Olympic Games cycle are set to be shared between the two media companies.
The new rights agreement covers the 2026-2032 period, which includes the 2026 winter games in Italy and the 2028 summer games in L.A. It does not include the 2024 Paris Olympics.
The news comes following uneven free-to-air coverage of the Tokyo Olympics 2020 (which took place in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic) after Discovery Communications, as the company was still called pre-merger, purchased the European rights to the games for its network EuroSport for €1.3 billion ($1.5 billion).
The Discovery deal gave the company exclusive rights to broadcast the Olympics (both winter and summer) across 50 European territories although the International Olympics Committee (IOC), which owns the games, guaranteed 200 hours of free-to-air coverage for the summer games.
This still left European public service broadcasters – who are jointly represented by the EBU – out in the cold, resulting in much anger among European fans in the summer of 2021 as they struggled to watch the Tokyo games. In the U.K., the BBC received a number of complaints about its coverage because it could not show livestreams of every sport.
Given the uproar – and Discovery’s Warner merger which has resulted in intense cost-cutting – it now appears WBD and EBU quietly launched a joint bid to acquire media rights from the IOC for 49 European territories.
The new deal will see EBU members deliver more than 200 hours of the summer games (and 100 hours of the winter games) of free-to-air coverage across Europe on television and digital platforms including radio, livestreaming, web, apps and social media. In a statement announcing the deal, U.K. public service broadcaster BBC said the deal would mean it can now offer “extensive live and on demand coverage of the Olympic Games across all broadcast platforms up to and including the Olympic Games Brisbane 2032.”
WBD, meanwhile, will hold full pay-TV rights and continue to have exclusive streaming and digital rights in 43 European territories including France, Netherlands, Spain and U.K. (they will not have exclusive rights in Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Norway and Sweden.)
“We are delighted to have reached a long-term agreement with two of the world’s leading media companies,” said IOC president Thomas Bach. “The EBU and its members provide unparalleled broadcast expertise and reach across Europe, and Warner Bros. Discovery, through the recent combination of Warner Media and Discovery, represents one of the world’s largest media and entertainment companies across all programming genres and platforms. It demonstrates the ongoing appeal of the Olympic Games across Europe. As the IOC redistributes 90 per cent of the revenues it generates, this long-term agreement also provides critical financial stability to the wider sporting movement and ultimately supports the athletes themselves.”
Delphine Ernotte Cunci, president of the EBU and CEO of France Télévisions, said: “We’re proud to have secured the Olympic Games for audiences to enjoy free to air until 2032. This deal is a game-changer for public service media and demonstrates the abiding strength and solidarity of our Union.”
Andrew Georgiou, president of Warner Bros. Discovery Sports Europe, added: “As the ‘Home of the Olympics in Europe’ for the last three Olympic Games, we are pleased to be extending our relationship with the IOC through 2032. Ahead of what promises to be a magnificent Olympic Games Paris 2024, we are delighted that Warner Bros. Discovery will remain the only place where fans can get every moment of the following four Olympics.”
Tim Davie, BBC Director-General, also issued a statement, saying: “The Olympic Games is a truly special event – thrilling and inspiring in equal measure – I’m delighted it will be on free-to-air for the U.K. public. I know the BBC will do a fantastic job bringing all the action and analysis to the public.”