Discovery Said to Fight Sky TV for English Soccer Rights

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Discovery Communications Inc. will bid for rights to screen English Premier League soccer, joining a multi-billion-pound auction for one of sport’s most popular televised championships.

Bids for the Premier League are due early next month and Discovery is planning to take part, two people familiar with the matter said. David Zaslav, chief executive of the U.S. broadcaster, flew to London today to meet Premier League officials, one of those people said.

Discovery, part-owned by cable-TV billionaire John Malone, will face intense competition from Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Plc and BT Group Plc. Those two companies together paid a record 3 billion pounds ($4.5 billion) in 2012 for the current three-year rights package.

Discovery, which recently acquired majority control of France-based broadcaster Eurosport, is increasingly taking part in European sports auctions, illustrating how valuable such content has become because of lucrative advertising deals and viewer subscriptions. In June, it made a failed bid for the TV rights to Italy’s Serie A soccer matches, and is reportedly pursuing French rugby rights.

The televising of English top-flight games was dominated by Murdoch’s Sky before BT secured some of the rights in 2012. The participation of bidders such as Discovery is expected to push the price even higher this time.

Discovery, based in Silver Spring, Maryland, gets more revenue from its international businesses than at home as growth slows in in the U.S. It owns the TLC and Animal Planet cable channels.

The company has also been investing in TV production assets and is seeking bolt-on acquisitions to add to All3Media, the U.K.-based producer it bought in partnership with cable company Liberty Global Plc. in May, the people said.

Soccer Sale

The Premier League is selling 168 games per season for three years starting in 2016. The sale is divided into five packages of 28 games and two of 14, with no buyer allowed to buy more than 126 matches.

The current sale of Premier League rights comes amid a probe by U.K media regulator Ofcom into complaints by cable-TV provider Virgin Media Inc. that the sale process breaches competition law and drives up prices for consumers.

Viewers in the U.K. pay some of the highest prices to watch soccer, and get to see a lower proportion of live games than citizens in other European countries. The Premier League’s total broadcast income is about 5 billion pounds, with about 2 billion pounds generated from sales to overseas markets.