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Discovery wants to become the 'sports Netflix' in Europe, CEO says

Key Points
  • Discovery owns exclusive sports rights in many European markets, creating the potential for a "sports Netflix," according to CEO David Zaslav.
  • The company, which will close its acquisition of Scripps early next year, is also looking at bringing its lifestyle content to "skinny bundle" digital services.
Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav: With Scripps deal we'll have over 20% of viewership

Discovery Communications wants to become the "sports Netflix" for the European audience, said CEO David Zaslav.

"ESPN is really just in the U.S., so we actually look at ESPN as an opportunity, " Zaslav told CNBC's "Power Lunch" on Tuesday. "There are sometimes things that we could look at together, because we're all of Europe, which is about 750 million people, and we are the dominant player in sports there."

Though Discovery is mostly known for its lifestyle channels like Animal Planet and TLC in the U.S., it also owns European sports network EuroSport and exclusive rights across much of the continent. For example its digital EuroSports Player was one of the only ways people could watch the U.S. Open during the tournament's first week in many European markets, said Zaslav, who was attending Vanity Fair's New Establishment Summit in New York.

Discovery has also worked with Amazon to stream sports content in Germany and the U.K. Although Amazon could potentially become another bidder for rights and drive up prices, Discovery currently has an advantage because it is the only intercontinental sports content rights owner, Zaslav said.

"Amazon is definitely testing the waters," Zaslav said. "For us, it's been a big advantage because they've been able to help us scale up by driving our subscriber base."

Discovery is betting big on direct-to-consumer digital services. When the Discovery-Scripps acquisition deal closes early next year, the company will own about 20 percent of cable viewership, according to Zaslav. It will also make the media company number one among U.S. women and African-American demographics, Zaslav said.

Discovery agreed in July to acquire Scripps in a deal worth $11.9 billion.

In order to expand its revenue stream, the company plans to start moving its content to digital services that let consumers pick what they want, Zaslav said.

Discovery shares have dropped 20 percent since the announcement. If the digital strategy pays off, Zaslav is convinced the stock will bounce back.

"Wall Street will get there, I think, if our strategy is correct," he said.