Comcast challenges Fox with $31bn offer for Sky

Posted March 02, 2018

Comcast today announced an unsolicited $31 billion bid to purchase United Kingdom -based European broadcast group Sky, disrupting an earlier $25.8 billion bid by 21st Century Fox and its impresario, Rupert Murdoch, to buy the remaining 61% of the company they don't now own.

Comcast is the biggest U.S. cable TV firm.

NBC Universal and Sky have previously worked together on a number of programming fronts.

Describing Sky as "an outstanding company", Brian Roberts, chief executive of Comcast, said he remained "confident" its offer would be accepted by the regulators.

Comcast's possible all-cash offer of £12.50 per Sky share represents a premium of 16% on the current Fox terms. Meanwhile Sky's shares jumped more than 18% to above £13 in early trading on the London Stock Exchange. "I think we're all very familiar and comfortable in those relationships evolving as ownership and acquisitions occur in media business", he said. "We're able to sit down with the NBC creatives and Sky's creative team and there will be synergistic opportunities to work together on show concepts, film distribution and technology".

Sky's independent shareholders have yet to react to the deal, which would create a "unique leader in entertainment and technology with the resources and capabilities to compete, grow and thrive in a rapidly changing world", Roberts said.

The deal would take Comcast's subscriber base over the 50-million mark, adding Sky's 23 million customers in Europe to Comcast's 29 million in the U.S. Sky shares surged on the news and were up more than 20% by noon London time, their highest level since 2000. NBCSN, a division of Comcast's NBC Universal, now holds Premier League broadcast rights in the U.S.

"It's obviously a huge gauntlet that's been laid down to the Murdochs in relation to their pre-existing offer", said Alice Enders, head of research at Enders Analysis.

Liberum's Whittaker said: "We expect this deal to go through as we do not think Fox (or Disney, who are acquiring the Sky assets as part of their purchase of various Fox assets) will want to get into a bidding war, especially given the complications surrounding Sky News".

The Competition and Markets Authority is now investigating Fox's takeover bid after provisionally declaring that any move toward full ownership of Sky "would not be in the public interest".

However, Fox has been trying to mollify competition concerns. This time, after Fox and Sky agreed on a deal, the British government forced the agreement to undergo scrutiny by the country's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

Mr Roberts said that Comcast could co-own Sky with either Fox or Disney, as long as Comcast held a majority stake.

Fox will be furious after Comcast's bid, said Crispin Odey, Murdoch's former son-in-law and founder of hedge fund manager Odey Asset Management, which owns a 0.8% stake in Sky according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

If Disney refused, then Fox would have to find the money itself, "which means it is then looking at a loss if Disney did end up acquiring 100% of Sky".

The younger Roberts became Comcast's president in 1990 and CEO in 2002, having spent his whole career at the company.

Comcast launched an unsolicited $54 billion bid to take over the Mouse House in 2004.

It also threatens to drag the Murdoch family into a full-blown takeover tussle, adding to the media mogul's frustrations after seeing Fox struggle to buy the 61% of Sky it does not already own due to regulatory hurdles.

Unlike the offer from 21st Century Fox, Comcast does not predict any issues with media plurality.