Comcast Starts Takeover War With 21st Century Fox for Sky

Sky’s headquarters in London. Comcast’s $30.7 billion offer for Sky puts the American cable giant in a takeover battle with Rupert Murdoch for control of the British broadcaster.
Andrew Testa for The New York Times

Comcast formally unveiled a $30.7 billion takeover bid for Sky on Wednesday, putting the American cable giant squarely in a takeover battle with Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox for control over the British satellite broadcaster.

The terms of the long-awaited proposal were good enough to prompt Sky to withdraw its recommendation for Fox’s $16 billion bid for the 61 percent of Sky that it does not already own.

What may follow is a battle for Sky, a broadcaster whose 23 million customers stretch across significant parts of Europe. It also owns the lucrative broadcast rights to the English Premier League and other professional sports competitions. Such is its value that Robert A. Iger, the chief executive of the Walt Disney Company, has called it “a real crown jewel.”

For Comcast, buying Sky would accelerate its international expansion plans, and give its NBCUniversal arm a more global platform. But perhaps as important, it would complicate Fox’s plan to sell the bulk of its businesses to Disney for $52.4 billion. Comcast had made a bid for Fox that was 16 percent higher than Disney’s on a per-share basis, but that proposal was rebuffed, partly because Comcast refused to offer protections in the event of regulatory rejection.

For Mr. Murdoch, buying the 61 percent of Sky that Fox does not currently own would give his company full control of a strongly performing business to which the media mogul has a special attachment. He founded the broadcaster in the early 1990s and had previously tried to buy the entire company, only to be forced to withdraw his bid in the wake of a British phone-hacking scandal involving one of his tabloids.

Comcast’s move, telegraphed two months ago, seizes upon Fox’s troubles in getting government approval for its bid. British regulators have questioned whether buying Sky, which operates the 24-hour news channel Sky News, would give Mr. Murdoch too much control over the country’s news media, given his ownership of newspapers like The Times of London and The Sun.

It also changes the calculus for Fox and Disney. Both have already offered concessions to allay regulators’ concerns, including an offer to sell Sky News to Disney.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Michael J. de la Merced

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