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Comcast outbids Fox for control of UK broadcaster Sky

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Comcast emerged as the victor for the British broadcaster Sky on Saturday (Sunday morning, Singapore time), beating 21st Century Fox in a months-long battle whose outcome promises to reshape the media landscape.

London

COMCAST emerged as the victor for the British broadcaster Sky on Saturday (Sunday morning, Singapore time), beating 21st Century Fox in a months-long battle whose outcome promises to reshape the media landscape.

With a final offer that values Sky at about £29.7 billion (S$53 billion), the US cable giant wrested away control of Sky from Rupert Murdoch and the Walt Disney Co, which is buying most of Mr Murdoch's company, Fox.

The final battle for control of Sky, a pay-television company whose reach extends across Europe, came down to an unusual one-day, three-round auction overseen by Britain's Takeover Panel.

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At the end, Comcast bid £17.28 per Sky share, while Fox had bid £15.67 a share.

Comcast and its chief executive Brian Roberts have succeeded in an international foray into empire building, gaining a big European outpost.

Sky also represents yet another source of content that could prove valuable as traditional media and telecommunications companies vie against Netflix. While Comcast owns NBCUniversal, more original shows and sports programming rights could help retain existing subscribers and draw new ones.

"This is a great day for Comcast," Mr Roberts said. "This acquisition will allow us to quickly, efficiently and meaningfully increase our customer base and expand internationally."

Martin Gilbert, the chairman of the Sky board committee that oversaw takeover bids for the company, said that Comcast's offer was "an excellent outcome" for shareholders and recommended that they accept the bid.

While Comcast emerged as the definitive winner of the auction, one unresolved question is whether Fox and its soon-to-be owner, Disney, would sell the 39 per cent stake it owns in Sky to its rival.

Analysts have speculated that Fox and Disney would be willing to trade that holding in return for Comcast's roughly 30 per cent stake in Hulu, the US streaming service. (Such a deal would give Disney near total control of that business.)

It is also unclear whether Mr Roberts' costly pursuit will sit well with his own shareholders. Comcast's winning bid is nearly 61 per cent above Fox's initial bid of about US$23 billion in late 2016.

Mr Murdoch founded Sky in the 1990s and it has since become one of Europe's top television and broadband companies.

Both bidders had coveted Sky's international reach - it has about 23 million customers in five European countries - and its mix of original content and valuable sports broadcasting rights such as the English Premier League.Sky has also been developing a video-streaming platform known as Q, which Mr Roberts has praised as impressive.

The battle for control of Sky has been full of drama for nearly two years.

Fox sought to buy the 61 per cent of Sky that it did not own in late 2016, but was met with scepticism by British lawmakers and regulators, who feared giving the family too much control over Britain's media market. Ultimately, Fox was allowed to bid for Sky.

Then last year, Fox agreed to sell the bulk of itself - including its 39 per cent stake in Sky - to Walt Disney in a US$52.4 billion deal.

Comcast made a higher takeover offer for Sky this spring, in part to spoil Disney's bid to acquire most of Fox. Fox - and behind the scenes, Disney - raised its offer for Sky.

Disney ultimately prevailed in the fight for Fox, but did not gain control of Sky. NYTIMES

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