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Comcast starts bidding war with 21st century Fox for Sky

[LONDON] Comcast formally unveiled a US$30.7 billion takeover bid for Sky on Wednesday, putting the US cable giant squarely in a takeover battle with Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox for control over the British satellite broadcaster.

The terms of the long-awaited proposal were good enough to prompt Sky to withdraw its recommendation for Fox's US$16 billion bid for the 61 per cent of Sky that it does not already own.

Comcast's move seizes upon Fox's troubles in getting government approval for its bid, which was announced in late 2016. British regulators have questioned whether buying Sky, which operates the 24-hour news channel Sky News, would give Mr Murdoch too much control over the country's news media, given his ownership of newspapers like The Times of London and The Sun.

It also changes the calculus for Fox and its ally The Walt Disney Co, which has already announced a US$52.4 billion bid for most of Fox's businesses. Both have already offered concessions to allay regulators' concerns, including an offer to sell Sky News to Disney. But now they may be forced to pay up to win Sky, which has customers in Austria, Britain, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain and Switzerland, and holds broadcast rights to the English Premier League and other professional sports competitions.

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Under the terms of its offer, Comcast would pay £12.50(S$23.14) a share in cash for each Sky share. Fox has offered £10.50 a share.

Hoping to press on Fox's weak spot, Comcast said that it was committed to Sky News' editorial independence, offering to set up a board for the news unit and maintain its funding. Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal, also repeated pledges to increase investment in Britain's film and television industries.

"We will invest to grow and enhance Sky's business and be a strong steward of its valuable brand," Brian L. Roberts, Comcast's chairman and chief executive, said in a statement. "Sky is a great British business - with us, that's the way it will always be." In a statement, Fox said that it remained committed to its takeover offer and was considering its options.