Warner Bros. Discovery picks esports chief to navigate the streaming era

Warner Bros. Discovery, the media giant created by the merger of the owners of HBO and “90 Day Fiancé”, has chosen an executive to manage its billions of dollars in sports rights, a mainstay of the company, according to people with knowledge of the decision. The company now has the rights to the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League games.

Executive Luis Silberwasser will be responsible for ushering the company’s sports programming — which includes “Inside the NBA,” the NCAA March Madness men’s basketball tournament and playoff baseball — even further into the streaming era. The decision is due to be announced on Thursday, said the people, who would speak only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the appointment.

Silberwasser has been one of the top executives at Univision, which this year struck a $4.8 billion deal with Mexican media giant Televisa to create a Spanish-language media colossus. He is president of TelevisaUnivision Inc. US Networks Group, reporting to Wade Davis, chief executive of Univision.

Silberwasser has a long-standing relationship with David Zaslav, chief executive of Warner Bros. Discovery, who oversaw Discovery before merging with WarnerMedia this year. Mr. Silberwasser was Discovery’s executive vice president, responsible for content for Discovery Networks International, during a tenure of more than a decade with the company. His title will be president and chief executive officer of Warner Bros. Discovery Sports.

Mr. Silberwasser, who is Latino, is one of the few black executives on Mr. Zaslav. He joins Savalle Sims, the company’s general counsel, and Channing Dungey, president of Warner Brothers Television Group, who are black. Warner Bros. Discovery has taken steps to diversify its board of directors, and Silberwasser’s appointment makes him one of the most powerful Latino executives in the US media industry.

Mr. Silberwasser will need to keep programming costs in check as the price of live sports rights soars. The chief executive of Warner Bros. Discovery’s David Zaslav told Wall Street that the company will be disciplined about its content spending, but he also wants the company to remain a major player in the sports media arena. These two goals may be at odds.

A prominent example: NBA Warner Bros. Discovery pays an average of about $1.2 billion a year for the rights to show NBA games nationally, part of a nine-year deal signed in 2014. That deal ends after the 2024-25 season, and the NBA expects his rate will increase sharply during the next round of negotiations given the NBA’s growing popularity around the world, according to a person familiar with the deal.

There is little doubt that Warner Bros. Discovery will have to pay more to continue airing the NBA, which is one of the main attractions of its cable channel TNT and sports website Bleacher Report. The NFL nearly doubled its media revenue from signed rights deals last year, and the NHL, Southeastern Conference and other sports leagues have seen big increases in recently concluded deals.

Mr. Silberwasser will be responsible for managing the esports portfolio for Warner Bros. Discovery in the US and define the company’s global sports strategy. The company’s international sports portfolio, including the Olympics, will be managed by Andrew Georgiou, President and Managing Director of WBD Sports Europe. Lenny Daniels, President of Turner Sports, and Patrick Crumb, President of Regional Sports Networks, will report to Mr. Silberwasser.

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