Dick Ebersol, the legendary TV executive who helped make the Olympics a staple of NBC’s lineup, played a key role in helping Discovery Communications win the European rights to the 2018-24 Games.
Discovery and the IOC announced their $1.4 billion deal on Monday.
Ebersol acted as an unpaid consultant to Discovery, whose CEO David Zaslav used to be president of NBC Cable and helped pay for some of the deals that brought the games to NBC.
“David and his team did not know any of the IOC people, so I began to bring them together in the later stages of October,” Ebersol said.
Ebersol also acts as an unpaid consultant to the IOC. “That’s why I take no role in the actual negotiating,” he said.
With Discovery gearing up to produce and distribute Olympic coverage, Ebersol said, “I’m more than happy to continue as an advisor,” but he added, “I don’t want to work full-time again. And I have felt that way since late spring of ’11,” when he parted ways with NBCU CEO Steve Burke.
Ebersol believes that while Discovery is new to the Olympics, it’s in a good position to take on the challenge.
In terms of distribution, Discovery owns two Eurosport channels in most European markets and four in many. It’s got 10 Discovery channels in most markets, plus broadcast networks in Scandinavia.
In terms of creative, Ebersol looks at the Olympics as the greatest reality show in the world.
“It’s about real people facing real challenges. You have either the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat and produce real heroes or people who weren’t able to pull it off. So much of Discovery’s winning program formula in their programming is the same thing. It’s real people in challenging situations and again only the strong survive,” he said. “As they got to know each other better and better and the IOC folks really got a sense of just the kind of stuff they put out there, I think they became very comfortable with the Discovery people creatively.”
Speaking of the strong surviving, Ebersol said that Zaslav’s performance at Discovery is no surprise to him.
Ebersol recalls that when he and NBC became the first to secure rights to multiple Olympic games in 1995, the economics were a bit unclear.
“David Zaslav was given the challenge of going out into the American cable world and looking to get a regular sub fee deal for the Olympics and he succeeded,” Ebersol said. "Comcast, which now owns NBCUniversal, was the last cable operator to agree to pay a sub fee, just weeks before the Sydney games,” he said.
“The amount of guaranteed money that poured out for every Olympics became the guarantee that every one of those Olympics was going to make money,” Ebersol said. “David was my MVP.”