WBD’s Gerhard Zeiler admits Sky deal will end ‘one day’ & talks up local programming

House Of The Dragon

Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD)’s international chief Gerhard Zeiler has admitted the company will at some point end its output deal with Sky, while talking up the importance of local programming and investing in its UK production capability.

WBD’s rich output deal across Europe, which hands Sky access to hits such as Succession and Game Of Throne’s spin-off House Of The Dragon among numerous others, is due to end in 2025 and it is unclear if WBD will look to strike a new pact.

Its latest deal, struck in 2019, has meant that WBD’s HBO Max streamer – which is being replaced next year with a combined service with Discovery+ – could not be launched in Sky countries, including the UK.

Gerhard Zeiler (c Richard Kendal/RTS)

The companies also have a coproduction pact, but Gerhard Zeiler, WBD’s international president, told the Royal Television Society’s London event this morning that while the Sky partnership “is great for both of us, one day we will probably also want to have a streaming service in the UK, outside of Discovery+.”

Zeiler joked that, as a UK-based Sky customer, he knew how much WBD programming meant to Sky because he had been receiving annual marketing from the pay TV operator’s CEO for a decade that cited numerous shows produced by his company.

Sky, however, has been rapidly ramping up its own in-house productions with 200 originals in the works, while it has also struck deals allowing subscribers to access streamers such as Netflix, Discovery+ and Paramount+.

Local importance

In a far-reaching discussion, Zeiler also talked up the importance of local programming to WBD’s operations, despite the company recently shuttering swathes of its local production capability across Europe.

The WBD exec said: “There is one rule in our industry – if you want to be a successful global player, you have to have all the local stories.

Succession

“The big hits will still be the Mad Men’s, the Successions, the Euphoria’s and House Of The Dragon, but to be a top three player, you need to complement these stories. Maybe not in every market of the world, but a lot of them.”

Zeiler pointed to WBD’s Spanish programming as examples of its local fare, with shows such as 30 Coins, Patriarch and docuseries Save The King, adding that soccer show Las Bravas reflected a regional success in Lat Am.

The veteran exec also said that local production was a key focus for WBD, which has been in the midst of cutting jobs around the world as it seeks synergy savings of $3bn within a couple of years.

Zeiler pointed to WBD’s 50% stake in All3Media and said his company would be extending its investments in UK-based production. There was no word on the future of All3, which is co-owned with Liberty Global, whose CEO told TBI earlier this summer that it had “no plans to sell”.

The WBD exec added that local shows retained huge importance across both streaming and local broadcasters, but admitted turning them into global hits could not be planned for.

“Local stories are not only focused on streaming side of business, everyone who runs a broadcaster knows you can’t have local broadcasting without local shows.”

“You need commissioning on a local base but every creator on our side is thinking this could be local hit and a global hit, could travel to the US.

“If something really gets traction locally we can do a lot of marketing and on other networks we have to really accelerate that. But you don’t know before if it will be a success or not.”

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