European media rights to the four editions of the Olympic Games between 2026 and 2032 (winter and summer) have been officially awarded to a joint bid by multinational media and entertainment giant Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) and the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the alliance of public service networks.

The deal, struck by the two media heavyweights with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and announced today (January 16), starts with the Milan-Cortina Winter Olympics in three years’ time and will see the EBU hold free-to-air (FTA) rights across the continent, on both linear and digital platforms.

These rights will be split across public-service and FTA broadcasters in 49 European countries. The first partnership between the IOC and the EBU dates back to 1956, with this deal “guaranteeing free-to-air reach for the games.”

For WBD, meanwhile, the deal represents an extension of a tie-up struck in 2015 through which it holds full rights in all European countries except Russia to the 2018-24 editions of the Olympics. For the 2026, 2028 (Los Angeles), 2030 (as yet unallocated), and 2032 (Brisbane) Olympics, it will continue to hold full pay-TV rights and also to present every moment on its live-streaming and digital platforms.

The 2015 deal was worth $1.5 billion.

Coverage for the next four editions will continue to be available on both the Eurosport linear broadcaster and through the discovery+ streaming service (which made its Olympic debut at Tokyo 2021), WBD has confirmed.

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The IOC launched its European tender process for the next four editions of the games in mid-March, with a deadline of April 25. At the time, the tender outlined that parties could bid individually for either the 2026 or 2028 games, but not individually for the 2030 or 2032 events – those had to be attached to a submission for one if not both of the earlier games'.

IMG, the international sports and entertainment company, was appointed for consultancy services relating to the tender, as had been the case in 2015.

For the past three Olympics, WBD has itself struck partnerships with over 45 FTA broadcasters affiliated with the EBU.

A joint release has stated that from the 2026 games onwards, every EBU member will “broadcast more than 200 hours of coverage of the Olympic Summer Games and at least 100 hours of the Olympic Winter Games on TV …” These are essentially the same terms as during the 2018-24 cycle.

There will also be “a broad range of radio coverage, live streaming, and reporting across web, app, and social media platforms.”

The 49 countries covered by this latest deal are Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Estonia, France, Georgia, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Kosovo, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Vatican City State, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Norway, and Sweden.

The latter six countries are those where WBD only holds non-exclusive rights to every moment of action.

Thomas Bach, president of the IOC, said: “We are delighted to have reached a long-term agreement with two of the world’s leading media companies.

“The EBU and its members provide unparalleled broadcast expertise and reach across Europe, and Warner Bros. Discovery, through the recent combination of Warner Media and Discovery, represents one of the world’s largest media and entertainment companies across all programming genres and platforms.”

Delphine Emotte Cunci, the EBU’s president (also holding that role for the public service France Televisions), added: “Through its members, the EBU has the potential to reach over one billion viewers across Europe via linear and non-linear platforms. And that’s why I’m so pleased to welcome this partnership with the IOC and Warner Bros. Discovery, which will ensure the games will be available to the widest possible audience across Europe.”

The president and managing director for WBD Sports Europe, Andrew Georgiou, also commented on the deal: “We are grateful to be partnering with the EBU and its Members on the next stage of our Olympic journey, extending our commitment made together with the IOC in 2015 to reach more people through broad-reaching and accessible coverage.

“Viewers throughout Europe will continue to have an extensive choice and the ability to access the Games across multiple platforms, setting an outstanding foundation to build on the record audience and engagement delivered for Europe for the past three games."

WBD has claimed that during the last edition of the Summer Olympics, in Tokyo in 2021, 372 million people across Europe engaged with the games, of whom 175 million did so through WBD platforms.

The media heavyweight has also said that during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, the number of visitors to its platforms from European countries was 156 million, 19 times more than during the previous Winter Games, Pyeongchang 2018.

Image: Getty Images