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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 October 2018

Comcast beats Fox with pricy $39 billion bid for Sky

Sky’s independent directors have recommended accepting the transaction and investors have until October 11 to tender their shares

British regulator said Comcast has won an auction to formally bid for broadcaster Sky. AP
British regulator said Comcast has won an auction to formally bid for broadcaster Sky. AP

Comcast overwhelmed 21st Century Fox in a bidding war for Sky, offering $39 billion (Dh143.2bn) in a bold strategic stroke that could make investors uneasy.

In an unusual one-day auction, Comcast bid about 10 per cent more than Fox on Saturday, all but ensuring that it will get control of Sky, Europe’s largest satellite broadcaster. Sky’s independent directors have recommended accepting the transaction, but investors have until October 11 to tender their shares.

The outcome brings an M&A victory to Comcast chief executive Brian Roberts after a string of setbacks. The 59-year-old cable magnate, who spent Saturday in a London hotel orchestrating the auction, had previously tried to acquire the bulk of Fox - only to be outbid by Walt Disney.

With Sky, he has a chance to build a global television giant, helping stave off the threat from Netflix. The acquisition lets Comcast double its pay-TV subscribers and add sought-after programming, such as the rights to Premier League English soccer.

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“This is a great day for Comcast,” Mr Roberts said in a statement. “Sky is a wonderful company with a great platform, tremendous brand and accomplished management team.”

The question now is whether Comcast paid too much. Investors have already expressed concerns about its M&A ambitions this year, sending its shares down more than 5 per cent. Comcast’s final bid of £17.28 (Dh82) a share was well above the £15.67 offered by Fox.

Another shadow over the deal: whether Fox will agree to sell its 39 per cent stake in Sky to Comcast. People familiar with the matter said that Fox was mulling tendering the stake if Disney supports the move. But the company said in a statement on Saturday that it was still “considering its options and will make a further announcement in due course”.

Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Paul Sweeney said he expects that Fox will capitulate. “I can’t imagine they want to be a minority shareholder in this,” Mr Sweeney said. “It’s a very bold price.”

The sweetened bid from Comcast - 17 per cent higher than the company’s offer for Sky going into the auction - exceeded expectations. It was well above the £16.53 average estimate of a Bloomberg survey.

“I’m pretty excited - we’ve got a good price for it,” said Sky investor Crispin Odey, founder of Odey Asset Management. The fund manager owns 0.6 per cent of the shares, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. “I still think it may look a bit cheap in a couple of years.”

Buying Sky allows Mr Roberts to expand the content and distribution model he has embraced since taking control of 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 such as UK, Italy and Germany.

Sky also has original TV productions, such as the 1920s crime saga “Babylon Berlin” and “Britannia,” a period drama about the Roman conquest of Britain.

Netflix, meanwhile, has relied on other companies’ broadband networks to distribute its lavish in-house productions and expand its global subscriber base to 130 million.

Crucially for Comcast, Sky has a growing video-streaming business. Mr 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 behavior. Comcast estimates that owning Sky will create $500 million in synergies, partly through selling Sky content in the US and NBC programming in Europe.

Adding Sky would mean Comcast generates a fourth of its sales outside of the US, up from 9 per cent now. It would also represent a victory in Comcast’s checkered 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.

If Fox had outbid Comcast, Sky would have fallen into Disney’s hands next year as part of its $71bn Fox takeover deal struck in July.

That deal will bring Disney franchises such as the X-Men and hit shows like “The Simpsons.” The loss of Sky partly stymies Disney CHIEF EXECUTIVE Bob Iger’s goal of establishing more direct ties to consumers and expanding his international business.

Rupert Murdoch, 87, the billionaire behind Fox, had been working for years to acquire the portion of Sky that his company didn’t already own. An earlier attempt was thwarted in 2011 by a phone-tapping scandal at his UK newspaper business.

Fox struck a philosophical tone in the wake of the auction Saturday, depicting its loss to Comcast as a victory of sorts.

“Sky is a remarkable story and we are proud to have played such a significant role in building the incredible value reflected today in Comcast’s offer,” the company said.