Twenty-First Century Fox company headquarters in New York. Fox’s latest bid values Sky at £24.5 billion. Image Credit: Bloomberg

LONDON

Britain on Thursday cleared the way for Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox to take full control of pan-European TV giant Sky after Fox agreed to address media plurality concerns.

Despite the clearance, satellite pay-TV group Sky could still end up being bought by Comcast or Disney amid a US media industry tug-of-war.

“It is now a matter for the Sky shareholders to decide whether to accept 21CF’s bid,” Britain’s Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright said in a statement.

Fox’s long-running pursuit for all of Sky had been plagued by UK government fears over media plurality and broadcasting standards — and the influence of Australian-born US citizen Murdoch.

Critics says that allowing Murdoch — who owns major British newspaper titles The Times and The Sun — full control of rolling TV channel Sky News would give him too much influence in the UK news business.

To remedy this, Fox has proposed to sell Sky News to Disney.

The UK government’s statement meanwhile comes one day after both Comcast and 21st Century Fox raised their bids for Sky, escalating a takeover battle as media giants reposition themselves for the streaming era.

Comcast lifted its offer to £26 billion ($34.3 billion) only hours after Fox boosted its offer for the 61 per cent of Sky it does not own.

Fox’s latest bid values Sky at £24.5 billion.

The battle for Sky comes as Comcast is also embroiled in a takeover battle with Disney for Fox entertainment assets that are being split off from Murdoch’s empire.

Some analysts have said Comcast could drop its bid for the Fox assets should it win Sky.

Media giants such as Disney and Comcast have been looking to beef up their creative offerings to compete with Netflix and other streaming services that are eroding the value of conventional cable television assets.

Sky shares leap as Comcast and Fox lock horns in bid battle

LONDON: Sky shares leapt to an 18-year high on Thursday as investors bet a transatlantic battle for the European pay-TV group had further to run, after Comcast’s $34 billion bid trumped an offer from Rupert Murdoch made just hours earlier.

Comcast, the world’s biggest entertainment group, said on Wednesday it had the backing of Sky’s independent directors for a £14.75-per-share offer that came just 16 hours after Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox bid £14.

Sky’s shares rose to as high as £15.41 on Thursday and were trading at £15.34 in mid-morning, valuing it at £26.4 billion — or $35 billion — as investors bet the bidders would have to pay more to secure victory.

Sky’s shares are up 95 per cent since Fox made its first bid in 2016, and have risen 55 per cent in the last year.

“This thing has gone from £10 to £15 in seconds, so most people have got vertigo on this one,” said Crispin Odey, a top 20 Sky shareholder. “You need a finale at the end of a great bull market and I think Sky is going to be that finale. “It’s got legs.”

— Reuters