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Disney Is Back in the Hunt for Parts of 21st Century Fox

Walt Disney and 21st Century Fox have re-started more serious discussions that could result in the owner of ABC and ESPN picking up pieces of the empire controlled by the Murdoch family, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal, while Comcast also remains interested in pursuing a potential deal.

A Fox spokesperson declined to comment on the report, while a Disney representative did not respond to a query seeking comment. A Comcast spokesman said the company declined to comment on the report.

As Variety reported last month, Fox has continued to hold preliminary discussions with ComcastDisney, and other potential suitors about a sale process of the 20th Century Fox film and TV studio, the FX Networks and National Geographic cable group, Fox’s 30% stake in Hulu, and international TV platforms including Star India and its 39% interest in European satellite broadcaster Sky. Executives at Comcast and NBCUniversal are “being very serious” in studying the Fox assets and trying crunch the numbers with publicly available information, according to a person familiar with the matter. Sony and Verizon Communications are among the parties that have also expressed interest.

The combined value of the assets believed to be on the block is estimated at around $48.5 billion, according to media-industry analyst Michael Nathanson, with the 20th Century Fox film and TV production operation and library valued highest at around $15 billion.

Disney’s interest in the Fox assets first surfaced in early November, but the two sides were believed to have walked away over price and other terms. The ongoing talks signal that the Murdoch family, who have spent decades building a media empire that extends from the Fox broadcast network to Fox News Channel and The Wall Street Journal across two different media companies, see less room for growth for certain parts of the kingdom at a time when digital media is crimping the flow of many types of revenue that typically buoy the entertainment business.

The talks may not reach any conclusion, according to the Journal report. The Murdoch family hopes to determine whether to pursue a transaction by the end of the year.

An acquisition would add substantial heft to any company that made a successful purchase. Disney, which specializes in sports and family entertainment, would have new outlets like FX, known for its finesse with serialized drama and eyebrow-raising comedy, and the Fox TV studio, which produces “Modern Family,” a substantial piece of ABC’s primetime lineup, among other programs.  Both Disney and Comcast are partial owners, along with Fox, of the video-streaming site Hulu. A purchase would likely give one of the partners more say in the site’s direction at a time when Netflix, Amazon and other purveyors of subscription-video-on-demand are making great strides in the marketplace.

Both companies are likely interested in Fox’s share of Sky. Fox has been trying to purchase the rest of the satellite broadcaster that it does not own for months, but has been slowed down by intense scrutiny from British regulators. Adding Sky to the portfolio would give Disney and Comcast new international reach.

 

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