LONDON – The United Kingdom’s government said on Thursday it won’t oppose a bid by 21st Century Fox to consolidate ownership of Sky, removing the last regulatory hurdle for Fox as it battles it out with Comcast for the British broadcaster.
Fox sweetened its offer for Sky on Wednesday, triggering a higher bid a few hours later from Comcast, whose offer, at 14.75 pounds sterling ($19.48) a share, now values Sky at 25.9 billion pounds, or roughly $34 billion – more than 90 percent higher than its value before Fox first approached Sky about a deal over 18 months ago.
“21st Century Fox notes today’s announcement by the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport approving the proposed acquisition by 21CF for the fully diluted share capital of Sky which 21CF and its affiliates do not already own,” the United States-based company said in a press release.
British government approval for the Fox-Sky deal opens the door for Fox to go higher still. Comcast has previously secured UK approval to proceed with its pursuit of Sky.
The attempt by Fox owner Rupert Murdoch to buy the 61 percent of Sky that Fox doesn’t already own has been the subject of a long government review. Regulators forced a number of concessions from Fox, including an agreement to sell off Sky’s news operations to Disney.
That was required to ease government concerns that a 100-percent ownership of Sky by Fox would concentrate too much control of British news media in Murdoch’s hands.
He and his family are major shareholders in both Fox and News Corp, which owns a number of British newspapers, such as The Times, The Sun and The Sunday Times. It also owns The Wall Street Journal.
Fox has disputed this, saying there should be no such worry about media ownership concentration.
On Thursday, the UK culture minister said in a statement he agreed with a regulatory board’s previous finding that Fox’s planned sale of Sky News to Disney, or another buyer, would remedy those regulatory concerns.
The Sky auction has become a central battlefield in a larger contest between Comcast and Disney.
Disney has agreed to pay $71.3 billion for a number of major Fox assets, including the existing 39.1-percent share of Sky, besting a rival bid from Comcast.
The Wall Street Journal has reported Comcast is reviewing a range of options related the wider basket of Fox assets, from dropping out of the race for Fox to raising its bid.