John Malone Maps Out Succession Plan

Cable pioneer offers rights of first refusal to Discovery, Liberty Global CEOs

In what would appear to be a succession-planning move, John Malone has offered Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav the right of first refusal to buy his voting stakes in the Silver Spring, Md.-based media company.

In a Schedule 13D document, or “beneficial ownership report,” filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Liberty Media chairman said Zaslav will have the right to vote Malone’s 29.5 percent stake in Discovery “in the event Mr. Malone is not voting the shares.”

According to the SEC filing, if and when Malone elects to sell his shares of Discovery Series B stock, “Zaslav (individually or through an entity he controls), will have an exclusive right to negotiate to purchase such shares.”

Should the parties fail to come to terms on a transaction of said shares, Zaslav “will have [the] right to match the offer made by [a] third party.”

Malone’s stake in Discovery is currently valued at around $500 million.

Zaslav in January extended his contract with Discovery, inking a new deal that will keep him in the driver’s seat through 2019.

A similar offer was made to Michael Fries, CEO of the European cable outlet Liberty Global. Malone controls 27.5 percent of the Liberty Global voting shares.

Malone will celebrate his 73rd birthday on March 7. 

In a statement furnished by Malone to the Wall Street Journal, the billionaire investor said that he has no immediate plans to transfer any of his voting shares. “Nothing is changing right now,” Malone said. “I … plan on staying actively involved in both [companies] going forward.”

That said, the succession plan would help preserve “the long-term stability and continuity” of Discovery and Liberty Global, per Malone. Zaslav and Fries effectively are being recognized for creating “significant shareholder value” for their respective companies.