Britain’s government secretary for media said Monday that Comcast’s bid to buy pay-TV giant Sky does not raise the same kinds of concerns as 21st Century Fox’s proposed takeover and that he is therefore not inclined to order the same level of regulatory review of the Comcast offer that Fox’s bid is still undergoing.
Comcast’s $31 billion takeover bid does not “raise concerns in relation to public-interest considerations which would meet the threshold for intervention,” the U.K.’s culture secretary, Matt Hancock, said, adding that he is “not minded to” probe the proposed deal on public-interest grounds.
Hancock’s statement is a significant boost for Comcast given that Fox’s rival bid for control of Europe’s largest pay-TV business has been mired in regulatory red tape for months. Opponents of the Fox bid contend that ownership of Sky would give Rupert Murdoch and his family too much control over Britain’s media. Hancock is to decide by June 13 whether Fox’s takeover offer passes muster.
Comcast’s counter-bid, which is richer than Fox’s, is now likely to avoid the same regulatory hurdles. Hancock said Monday that he has told Sky and Comcast he does not consider there to be a public-interest issue with the U.S. company’s offer. “Having reviewed the relevant evidence available, I can confirm that I have today written to the parties to inform them that I am minded not to issue [a European Intervention Notice] on the basis that the proposed merger does not raise concerns in relation to public-interest considerations which would meet the threshold for intervention,” Hancock said.
“This is a quasi-judicial decision, and I am required to make my decision independently, following a process that is scrupulously fair and impartial, and as quickly as possible.”
Interested parties can now submit representations. Hancock added: “I aim to come to a final decision on whether to intervene in the merger shortly.”
Hancock’s department did issue an intervention notice on the bid from Fox, which is trying to buy up the 61% of Sky it does not already own. Fox’s attempted takeover has faced opposition on the grounds of broadcasting standards and whether the Murdoch family are fit and proper owners, particularly of Sky News, Sky’s 24-hour news channel. Critics have pointed to the phone-hacking scandal in the U.K. that hit Murdoch-owned newspapers and elements of the operation of Fox News in the U.S. as reasons to block the Sky deal.
Fox has offered a series of concessions to uphold the independence and funding of Sky News. Comcast has also offered assurances over the future of the channel.
Fox’s offer for Sky has now been scrutinized by British media regulator Ofcom and by the Competition and Markets Authority.
Earlier this month, James Murdoch called for “robust” official scrutiny of Comcast’s rival bid for Sky. “We think it’s very reasonable for Comcast to undergo a robust regulatory review which could take months,” Murdoch said. “The Comcast review would be appropriate given the important role Sky and Sky News play in the U.K. media market.”