Regulators in the U.K. have cleared separate bids for satellite TV operator Sky, setting up a showdown between Comcast and 21st Century Fox as to which will actually wind up with the asset.
Comcast’s $29 billion bid was accepted without conditions. Fox, however, must promise to divest Sky News, with U.K. regulators concerned that the media conglomerate’s controlling family, the Murdochs, would control too much of the country’s news media. Fox’s approval to its $24.7 billion bid for the 61% of Sky it doesn’t already own comes after 18 months of regulatory scrutiny. Comcast announced its bid in February.
Regulators had said earlier that Comcast’s bid would not entail as much review.
Announcement of the approvals was made by U.K. Culture Minister Matt Hancock.
Should Fox succeed in its bid for Sky, the Murdochs would likely soon step aside, with both the Walt Disney Company and Comcast bidding in the U.S. for the bulk of Fox’s media assets.
More clarity on the complicated four-way transaction will be offered up on July 10, when Fox shareholders are scheduled to vote on Disney’s $52.4 billion agreement to buy the company. Comcast has given notice that it will make a counteroffer for the Fox assets.
Back in the U.K., opposition to Fox’s Sky bid remains high, with local lawmaker and noted opponent Tom Watson telling Variety, “A bidding war is on the horizon. That might be good for shareholders, but it’s the minister’s duty to protect the interest of the public. Sky is a gem of British broadcasting, respected worldwide. Its future and global reputation for excellence is at stake in this process. So it is right that if there is any doubt about whether the proposed solution is workable, then it is the duty of the Secretary of State [Hancock] to ensure that this merger is blocked.”