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UK opens door to Fox-Comcast bidding war for Sky

Staff Writer |
UK Culture Secretary Matt Hancock cleared 21st Century Fox's bid for full ownership of European pay TV giant Sky under the condition of a sale of the Sky News network to Walt Disney or another party, a divestment for which full details still need to be hashed out.

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He also confirmed that Comcast's offer for Sky will not require a regulatory review in Britain.

"I have concluded that the proposed merger does not raise public interest concerns, and so I can confirm today that I will not be issuing an intervention notice," he told the British parliament in London.

Hancock's decisions set up a potential bidding war for Sky. Fox's current offer valued Sky at around £18.5 billion, or $24.7 billion, as of Tuesday, while Comcast's bid valued it at £22.0 billion, or $29.4 billion.

Hancock sad he agreed with Britain's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) that "divesting Sky News to Disney, as proposed by Fox, or to an alternative suitable buyer, with an agreement to ensure it is funded for at least 10 years, is likely to be the most proportionate and effective remedy for the public interest concerns that have been identified."

He added that a CMA report to his department set out some draft terms for such a divestment, "and Fox has written to me to offer undertakings on effectively the same terms," including "significant commitments" from Fox. But he added that "some important issues" remain, "which still need to be addressed."

Concluded Hancock: "I need to be confident that the final undertakings ensure that Sky News remains financially viable over the long-term; is able to operate as a major U.K.-based news provider; and is able to take its editorial decisions independently, free from any potential outside influence."

Once terms of a Sky News sale are reached, which the Culture Secretary said he hopes will happen within two weeks, parties will have 15 days, during which the culture department must hear input on it. Hancock said he hopes the overall process will be wrapped up within about a month.

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