As the U.S. Open tournament reached its climaxin Queens last week, execs from Eurosport, the overseas sports network controlled by Discovery, noted a milestone connected to its coverage ofthe tennis. The first day of the Open on Aug. 29, they said, was the busiest day ever for the network’s stand-alone, direct-to-consumer service, Eurosport Player.
“We’ve just skimmed the surface of what it can do,” CEO Peter Hutton told a small group of reporters during a visit to Flushing Meadows. Eurosport Player was relaunched last year with the goal of reaching 1 million subscribers by 2017. It is currently just shy of 300,000.
Often labeled “the ESPN of Europe,” Eurosport has a different set of advantages and challenges than its counterpart in Bristol. It has checked the OTT box, unlike ESPN, which says it will launch an offering by the end of this year. But also unlike ESPN, which achieved scale through deals for mass-audience sports like NFL and college football, Major League Baseball and the NBA, Eurosport addresses an innately fragmented audience. Its networks reach 228 million subscribers in 93 countries. Its rights deals are a patchwork of languages and customs specific to individual markets—sometimes just singular, niche events like ski jumping in Poland or speed skating in Norway.
“It almost does operate like an RSN in that you’ve got central content that can get broadcast everywhere, but you’ve also got local operations that can make local decisions about their local sport,” Hutton said. “Working that balance is a really nice problem.”
Nowhere will that balance be more delicate than during coverage of the Olympic Games. Eurosport won rights to broadcast the Olympics starting in 2018. Asked about NBC’s widely criticized prime-time broadcasts from Rio this summer, the centerpiece of coverage that dropped 17% in aggregate from the 2012 London Olympics, Hutton said: “In an environment of social media, to believe you can hold back the story is really not achievable.” For Eurosport, “the expectation always going to be that every event will be live,” he added. “That’s what sports fans deserve.”
NBC’s packaged programming approach, which in Eurosport’s case could also air on other Discovery-owned networks, has “a lot we can learn from,” Hutton said. “But it has to sit next to a huge live offering that you make available to everybody.”