U.K. Unlikely to Block Comcast’s Proposed Sky Takeover, Minister Says

Posted May 21, 2018 3:52 p.m. EDT
Updated May 21, 2018 3:54 p.m. EDT

LONDON — Britain’s culture secretary said Monday that he was unlikely to block the U.S. cable giant Comcast’s proposed takeover of the British satellite broadcaster Sky, the latest twist in a merger battle between Comcast and Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox.

In a statement, the culture secretary, Matt Hancock, said he was not inclined to intervene in Comcast’s $30.7 billion bid for Sky because “the proposed merger does not raise concerns in relation to public interest considerations which would meet the threshold for intervention.”

Hancock’s remarks came amid a protracted effort by Fox to win full control of Sky, a company in which Murdoch’s company already holds a 39 percent stake. Fox submitted its current bid for Sky in December 2016, but the company has faced a series of regulatory roadblocks since then. Hancock is still considering that bid and is expected to make a final decision about it by sometime in June.

Comcast said in a statement that it welcomed Hancock’s position and remained “focused on progressing our superior offer for Sky.”

Comcast and Fox are in something of a bidding war for the satellite broadcaster. Under the terms of its offer, Comcast would pay 12.50 pounds, or about $16.83, in cash for each Sky share. Fox has offered 10.75 pounds a share. Sky had originally supported the Fox bid, but in April withdrew that recommendation after the Comcast proposal was submitted.

The competing offers by Fox and Comcast highlight the appeal of Sky, which has 23 million subscribers spread across multiple European countries, owns lucrative rights to broadcast English Premier League soccer games and other professional sports matches and has an online streaming service.

For Comcast, the Sky bid offers another benefit: It complicates Fox’s plan to sell most of its businesses to The Walt Disney Co. for $52.4 billion.

Murdoch founded Sky in 1989, and he has long sought to regain control of it. He abandoned an earlier effort to buy the 61 percent of the company he does not already own after 21st Century Fox’s predecessor company was caught up in a scandal over phone-hacking by British news outlets.

Murdoch, a powerful but divisive figure in Britain, owns the right-of-center newspaper The Times, and The Sun, a right-wing tabloid. In January, Britain’s competition regulator said a takeover of Sky and its 24-hour satellite channel, Sky News, would give him too much control over the British media.

Comcast said as part of its bid that it was committed to Sky News’ editorial independence, and the American cable company has pledged to set up a board for the channel and maintain its financing. Comcast has also pledged to increase its investment in Britain’s film and television industries.

Sky, in a statement, acknowledged Hancock’s statement but did not offer any further details. The company’s shares rose 0.5 percent, to 13.62 pounds, in afternoon trading in London.