April 20, 2018

21st Century Fox could sell Sky News to Disney

04 April 2018, 01:12 | Lionel James

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Phone hacking claims

21st Century Fox on Tuesday offered new proposals to insulate Sky's news operations from Rupert Murdoch's influence in its ongoing bid to take full control of the London-based pay TV company.

Fox, which now owns just 39 per cent of Sky, expressed confidence either option would address the CMA's outstanding concerns.

Fox told United Kingdom regulators that Disney is interested in acquiring Sky News regardless of its pending merger with Fox, which executives hope ease concerns over Murdoch's potential British media monopoly.

Britain's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) regulator provisionally ruled earlier this year that Murdoch's planned takeover was not in the public interest and that a deal would hand him too much power in swaying public opinion.

In a preliminary finding earlier this year, United Kingdom antitrust authorities said Fox's full ownership of Sky and its Sky News operations would give Fox Executive Chairman Rupert Murdoch too much influence in British media.

Mr Murdoch's family already have extensive media holdings, including stakes in newspapers such as The Sun and The Times. Comcast also recently offered to acquire Sky for $31 billion.

Analysts Liberum Capital said the Fox remedies "should be adequate" to overcome the regulator's media plurality concerns.

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The Murdoch family own 39 percent of Sky through 21st Century Fox. But the statement of intent is important given cable group Comcast lodged a possible offer in February that beat Fox's bid for Sky by 16 percent.

Disney owns ABC News and therefore could be seen as a good fit for Sky News. Britain's Culture Secretary Matt Hancock will then issue his verdict.

That could remove a major objection from the CMA, allowing Fox to acquire the 61% of Sky it doesn't already own.

Even if Fox's proposals satisfy Britain's government and competition regulator, however, it may still need to raise its recommended offer for Sky after USA cable group Comcast Corp said it meant to make a higher counter-bid.

Sky, which operates in seven European countries, is a smaller version of what American media giants are trying to become: owners of TV and internet "pipes" as well as the programming that flows through them. In this case, the company has guaranteed to fund Sky News as it current levels for ten years.

The four said the promises did not go far enough, given Murdoch's record of influence.

"We have proposed a set of solutions that address and resolve any and all questions or concerns that may have been raised by the transaction", Gerson Zweifach, Fox's general counsel, said in an emailed statement.

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