In conversation: Marcello Dolores, VP – Corporate Legal and Regulatory Affairs for Southern Europe, Discovery Networks

Joining Discovery Networks to set up its legal team in Italy six years ago, Marcello Dolores has seen the business flourish from a small pay TV offering to the country’s third largest network.

GC: How did you come to be at Discovery?

Marcello Dolores (MD): I’m now in my seventh year at Discovery. I started to work for Fox International Channels, based in Rome, and in those seven years, there was a big expansion and startup of Fox’s business in Europe. But also during those years, I took the advantage of being a young lawyer in an American corporation and so I travelled around quite a lot in all the different departments and headquarters of the company.

Six years ago, when Discovery decided to localise its business here in Italy, they pitched me from Fox and hired me to start their legal department for Italy, Spain and Portugal. This was a challenging time, because our business grew both in Italy and Spain in very few years – we had a growth of something like 10 times in terms of revenue. In Italy, we are now the third biggest network in terms of share, and still in Spain we are doing big numbers. We manage 14 channels in Italy, seven in Spain and six in Portugal. Then, one year ago or more, we also added to our portfolio all the Eurosport business that we are starting to manage locally, so also we had to have everything like sports rights acquisition, management, talent and all the regulated processes related to sports rights.

GC: What were the challenges of building and managing a legal team from scratch?

MD: Well, I have working with me four people in Milan, one person in Rome managing public affairs, then two people in Spain dealing with all the Spanish and Portuguese business, and then one person based in Paris, inside the Eurosport structure but reporting to me and supporting the Eurosport business in the region.

The challenge is that when you have to follow and support a high-speed and fast-growing business, what you need is readiness. So you need to find the right professionals to put exactly in the right place in the right moment. The first thing, for me as a leader, is to exactly understand and have a very clear idea of where our business is going, because this will help me and is necessary for me in order to identify the right professional I need for my department and to also give the right answer in a fast and efficient way to the company.

Together with that, that in these six years we have had to really differentiate, improve and enlarge our skills. We started from a small pay TV business, which required certain skills, then a free-to-air business, which requires some other skills. Then we have the sports rights coming in and now the digital explosion, which we are also managing internally with the specific apps, and specific pay subscription services for our business, which again needs more skills in consumer law and customer relationship management. So that was challenging and at the same time it was really stimulating and crazy and fun – but it was really challenging.

GC: Discovery has been granted the rights to show the Winter Olympics – how was your team involved in that?

MD: A major achievement for my team was our involvement with the acquisition of the Olympic rights. We had to manage the commercialisation of those rights at a local level, while also creating our own offer to the public – to the subscribers of the Olympics event. We had to manage on one hand the commercial exploitation, on the other hand the monetisation of our content. In terms of commercial exploitation, what we did as a team was to support the commercial team and the business team in selling the rights that we didn’t want to directly exercise or which required sublicensing. So dealing, negotiating, drafting agreements, trying to perfectly parameter the rights we are going to sell now. Obviously, this job always was to be done by looking back to what are the rights we got for the Olympics from the International Olympics Committee (IOC), what our main agreement provides, what are the clauses we need to reflect and then all the rest. The other part, which is the direct commercialisation of rights, particularly with Eurosport Player, was basically to focus more on the marketing of the service. How can we market that? What are all the legal requirements we need to fulfil and respect in order to avoid a breach of consumer law and in order to avoid claim from the subscriber and all the rest? So the second part was really focused on that.

Then, as an aside from these two main work streams, everything that was on the peripheries had to be managed: all of the marketing activities, all the sponsorship activities, all the ad-sales, all the activities around the main event, specific partnerships with the local partners such as the local branch of the IOC and other sports federations who want to have specific activities during this period. All the rest seems like a second level, but it is a lot to do – especially in a very short time frame and when the output is concentrated in 15 days. It’s not something that you can manage with internal timing or you can put low on your to-do list – everything is important and crucial: it’s the Olympics.

GC: How do you go about acquiring people with the acumen you need to work on your team?

MD: First, technically, what I normally do and did in the selection is, as much as I can, find people having previous experience in the market. So I have people coming from Google, from production houses, from Sky Italia, from Fox and so on. Then, this sense of trying to have someone who does not just want to do the homework and then sit, but someone who has a strong interest in the TV business, a strong interest in our programmes, services, our talents. Also, we want to find fun and interesting people who can sit down with other people in other departments of the company, exchange opinions and understand where we are going. It’s a very open company in the sense that there is much occasion for exchange of thoughts, of vision, and brainstorming, and we have several meetings at all levels.

GC: How do you deal with adapting rights obtained from overseas and making them suitable for the Italian TV markets?

MD: The European and Italian television market are some of the most heavily regulated markets you can get – with work to do in advertising and European quotas, to frequency and the networks – everything has its own separate laws and regulations. The Italian market in particular is quite peculiar too, because of the major presence of our public broadcaster, which is an extra consideration.

Moreover, this is a period of big changes for Italy. Starting at the beginning of last year, there was a change in the regulations concerning investment programming and investment obligations of channels in Italy. The change is aimed at giving support and financing to the Italian film industry, with some specific local and national quotas which introduce a concept of obligation mandatory investment – something that was not previously present in the Italian market.

GC: GDPR is a big topic, as you mentioned. Are you working in cooperation with your equivalents in other jurisdictions to get your processes up to scratch?

MD: We are, because we have a specific team focused on managing this in London. Basically, they are creating general guidelines for the corporation and then trying to cascade locally. Then, a big part of the job is checking everything fits with local rules and then secondly checking the business needs that we have in Italy. For example, Italy is the only country in the Discovery organisation (together with the Nordics) which has Dplay, which is our free-to-air app for Discovery content. This makes us one of those few regions in EMEA managing personal data of not just viewers, but also subscribers and fans. We have them register, but obviously when they navigate and choose the content, that data is tracked. And so this brings us to take the general guidelines, but then here in Italy, there are added considerations and compliance elements to be fulfilled.