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Comcast Outbids Fox for Control of British Broadcaster Sky

Comcast Outbids Fox for Control of British Broadcaster Sky
By: New York Times Posted On: September 22, 2018 View: 9

Comcast Outbids Fox for Control of British Broadcaster Sky

Comcast Outbids Fox for Control of British Broadcaster Sky

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Both Fox and Comcast have long coveted control of Sky, which Rupert Murdoch founded in the 1990s and which has since become one of Europe’s top television companies.CreditCreditBen Stansall/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

LONDON — Comcast emerged as the victor for the British broadcaster Sky on Saturday, beating 21st Century Fox in a monthslong battle whose outcome promises to reshape the media landscape.

With a final offer that values Sky at about 29.7 billion pounds, or roughly $39 billion, the American cable giant wrested away control of Sky from Rupert Murdoch and the Walt Disney Company, which is buying most of Mr. Murdoch’s company, Fox.

The final battle for control of Sky, a pay-television company whose reach extends across Europe, came down to an unusual one-day, three-round auction overseen by Britain’s Takeover Panel. At the end, Comcast bid £17.28 per Sky share, while Fox had bid £15.67 a share.

Comcast and its chief executive, Brian L. Roberts, have succeeded in an international foray into empire building, gaining a big European outpost. Sky also represents yet another source of content that could prove valuable as traditional media and telecommunications companies vie against Netflix. While Comcast already owns NBCUniversal, more original shows and sports programming rights could help retain existing subscribers and draw new ones.

“This is a great day for Comcast,” Mr. Roberts said in a statement. “This acquisition will allow us to quickly, efficiently and meaningfully increase our customer base and expand internationally.”

Martin Gilbert, the chairman of the Sky board committee that oversaw takeover bids for the company, said in a statement that Comcast’s offer was “an excellent outcome” for shareholders and recommended that they accept the bid.

While Comcast emerged as the definitive winner of the auction, one unresolved question is whether Fox and its soon-to-be owner, Disney, would sell the 39 percent stake it already owns in Sky to its rival. Analysts have speculated that Fox and Disney would be willing to trade that holding in return for Comcast’s roughly 30 percent stake in Hulu, the American streaming service. (Such a deal would give Disney near total control of that business.)

It is also unclear whether Mr. Roberts’s costly pursuit will sit well with his own shareholders. Comcast’s winning bid is nearly 61 percent above Fox’s initial bid of about $23 billion in late 2016.

Mr. Murdoch founded Sky in the 1990s and it has since become one of Europe’s top television and broadband companies. Both bidders had coveted Sky’s international reach — it has about 23 million customers in five European countries — and its mix of original content and valuable sports broadcasting rights like English Premier League soccer.

That overseas footprint would give Comcast a way to diversify away from the American market, where cord-cutting has slowed the growth of its traditional broadband and pay-TV businesses.

Sky has also been developing a video-streaming platform known as Q, which Mr. Roberts has praised as impressive.

Rarely has a multibillion-dollar takeover battle played out in such dramatic fashion, with a government-supervised auction taking place over a weekend. But the battle for control of Sky has been full of drama for nearly two years.

Fox sought to buy the 61 percent of Sky that it did not already own in late 2016. It was the second time in a decade that the Murdoch family had tried to buy full control of Sky. The Murdochs’ first attempt was in 2011, but they were forced to withdraw amid a phone-hacking scandal in Britain involving a Murdoch-owned tabloid.

Fox’s 2016 offer for Sky was met with skepticism by British lawmakers and regulators, who feared giving the family too much control over Britain’s media market. Mr. Murdoch already controls news outlets like The Sun and The Times of London, and skeptics worried that full control of Sky’s in-house news arm would give him too much power.

Ultimately, Fox was allowed to bid for Sky by the British government.

Then last year, Fox agreed to sell the bulk of itself — including its 39 percent stake in Sky — to Walt Disney in a $52.4 billion deal.

Sky ultimately became a key target in a complex bidding war for Fox between Comcast and Disney. Comcast made a higher takeover offer for Sky this spring, in part to spoil Disney’s bid to acquire most of Fox. Fox — and behind the scenes, Disney — raised its offer for Sky.

Disney ultimately prevailed in the fight for Fox, but did not gain control of Sky, which Robert A. Iger, the head of Disney, had called “a real crown jewel.”

Comcast, however, did not walk away from Sky. Instead, it and Fox continued to vie for dominance, leading the Takeover Panel to announce the unusual auction that took place on Saturday.

Follow Michael J. de la Merced on Twitter: @m_delamerced.

Edmund Lee contributed reporting from New York.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A27 of the New York edition with the headline: Comcast Outbids Fox to Win Control of Sky, a Leading British Broadcaster. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

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