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Brian Roberts: Comcast Dropped Out of ‘Unique Opportunity’ to Buy 21st Century Fox Because Price Soared

Comcast chief Brian Roberts acknowledged Thursday that Comcast dropped out of the hunt for 21st Century Fox assets earlier this month because the price was getting too high.

Roberts, speaking on Comcast’s second quarter earnings call, said Comcast’s pursuit of the Fox assets that Disney is set to acquire was “mostly about international expansion.” To that end, the company is now focused on its active bid for Sky, the European satellite TV provider that is partially owned by Fox.

“It was a unique opportunity,” Roberts said of the prospect of buying the larger group of Fox assets. “We were very disciplined in our approach to it, but we thought was mostly about international expansion opportunity. We had regulatory belief that it was approvable in the United States. Ultimately we pulled back because we thought we couldn’t build enough shareholder value by making the price that it seemed in our judgement to be able to buy it at, which was increasing.”

Roberts called Sky “a great business and a good use of capital” for Comcast. “It will fit well,” Roberts said. “It’s also unique.”

Comcast set off a bidding skirmish over 21st Century Fox on June 13 when it unveiled a $65 billion all-cash offer to rival Disney’s $52.4 billion agreement reached in December. Disney responded June 20 with a sweetened cash-and-stock offer that valued the Fox assets at $71.3 billion. Comcast formally withdrew its offer on July 19.

Comcast and 21st Century Fox and Disney are still battling over control of Sky. Fox owns 39% of Sky and hopes to pass on 100% control of the asset to Disney as it has been trying to close a deal to buy out the remaining shares for 18 months.

But Comcast in April fielded a richer bid for all of Sky that prompted Fox to respond on July 11 with a higher offer valued at $32.5 billion. Comcast returned the same day with a bid of $34 billion, which the Sky board has endorsed. That set off a 60-day timeline for shareholders to consider the offer. Fox, with support from Disney, is expected to come back with yet another offer within that 60-day window.

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