Comcast bid highest in a quick-fire auction of Sky, dealing Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox a potential knock-out blow in their battle for Europe’s largest satellite broadcaster.
The US cable TV provider offered £17.28/share for London-based Sky, compared to Fox’s £15.67 bid, the UK Takeover Panel said on Saturday. Comcast’s proposal values Sky at £29.7-billion. A victory over Fox, however, won’t be sealed unless Sky investors tender their shares by an 11 October deadline.
If Comcast’s bid is enough to clinch Sky, CEO Brian Roberts will emerge as a global TV power after conceding ownership of most of Fox’s entertainment assets in a separate bidding war to his rival, Walt Disney’s Bob Iger. Comcast would also win a rare opportunity to diversify beyond the US and gain global scale to compete with video streaming giant Netflix.
Acquiring Sky would also expand the content and distribution model that Roberts has embraced since buying NBCUniversal seven years ago. With Sky, the Philadelphia-based company would deliver TV services to 52 million customers in the US as well as European countries including the UK, Italy and Germany.
Sky also brings Comcast sought-after TV content, including rights to Premier League English soccer. It has been boosting its investment in original TV productions such as 1920s sex-and-crime saga Babylon Berlin and Britannia, a period drama about the Roman conquest of Britain.
Netflix has relied on other companies’ broadband networks to distribute its lavish in-house productions and expand its global subscriber base to 130 million, and its rivals are still looking for an effective response.
Crucially for Comcast, Sky has a growing video-streaming business. Roberts has said he was “terribly impressed” with Sky’s market-leading Q box platform, which is also a rich source of data on customer viewing behaviour. Comcast estimates that owning Sky will create US$500-million in synergies, partly through selling Sky content in the US and NBC programming in Europe.
Victory for Comcast
Buying Sky would mean Comcast generates a quarter of its sales outside of the US, up from 9% now. It would also represent a victory in Comcast’s chequered history of deal making. While Comcast acquired NBCUniversal and DreamWorks Animation over the past decade, it failed in attempts to buy Disney in 2004, Time Warner Cable in 2015 and Fox in July.
Then in July, Disney muscled Comcast aside with a $71-billion deal for Fox that brought it franchises such as the X-Men and hit shows like The Simpsons. The loss of Sky partly stymies Iger’s goal of establishing more direct ties to consumers and expanding his international business.
Fox forced Roberts’s hand by raising its bid during the auction under Iger’s direction. That may have been an astute move by Iger, who now gets more cash for Fox’s 39% stake in Sky and a rival with less potential borrowing firepower to fund future growth. — Reported by Joe Mayes and Gerry Smith, with assistance from Anousha Sakoui, (c) 2018 Bloomberg LP