The move has been widely seen as 72 year-old Malone’s first steps in laying out a succession plan for his global media empire.
Discovery chief exec David Zaslav will get a first look at Malone’s 29% (US$500 million) stake in the factual channels operator, while Mike Fries have a similar arrangement in regards to his 27% (US$800 million) stake in Liberty, according to an SEC filing made yesterday.
Furthermore, both Zaslav (left) and Fries (right) will now have the option use the voting rights accorded to Malone’s Class B shares in the event that Malone decides against voting on board-level decisions at the respective firms.
The filing made no mention of Malone’s US-based Liberty Media unit.
This comes soon after Zaslav’s tenure as CEO of Discovery was extended to the end of 2019. His new agreement with Malone is only applicable if he remains chief exec and/or on the Discovery board.
Discovery operates global cable nets including Discovery Channel, TLC and Eurosport, while Liberty operates cable platforms around the world such as Virgin Media and recently agreed to buy Dutch platform Ziggo.
However, Malone told the Wall Street Journal he was not planning on stepping back from either company at present.
“I have no plans to transfer any of my voting shares and plan on staying actively involved in both Liberty Global and Discovery Communications going forward,” he said.
“But, in the event I do in the future decide to pursue the sale of my voting position, I am excited about providing these two strong executives, who have both created significant shareholder value, with a path toward acquiring that stake and preserving the long-term stability and continuity of the companies they have built and will continue leading into the future.”