Comcast chief Brian Roberts said Tuesday that the company is confident its cash offer for Sky will pass muster with regulators, avoiding the issues that have beset 21st Century Fox’s attempt to buy the 61% of Sky it does not own.
That includes reservations surrounding the fate of Sky News and its editorial independence under a possible Fox ownership, the amount of media control Rupert Murdoch would exercise in Britain, and the output and governance of Fox News, which have all proved problematic.
“Significantly we don’t see any material issues and expect to receive the necessary approvals approval in a timely manner,” Roberts told analysts in an early-morning call . “We know we need regulatory approvals for the transaction to proceed and today’s announcement triggers the start of those regulatory processes.”
He added that Comcast would commit to keeping Sky News as a going concern. “We have tremendous respect for Sky News and its strong track record for high-quality editorial and journalistic independence,” Roberts said. “We will fully maintain that.”
CFO Michael J. Cavanagh suggested that Sky News and NBC News could collaborate. He also said that there would be expanded opportunities to distribute Sky and NBC content across both the U.S. and the U.K. A Comcast-Sky deal would align the companies behind “Downton Abbey” and “Law & Order,” from the Comcast and NBCUniversal side, and “Babylon Berlin” and “Britannia” from Sky, which is moving more deeply into originals.
“We believe the combination of the business presents the opportunity to distribute Sky an NBCUniversal content in the US and across Europe,” Cavanagh said. “We will extend our ‘Symphony’ model in the U.S.,where all parts of Comcast NBCUniversal come together to support a franchise, big show, or movie, to Sky.”
The deal would take Comcast’s subscriber base over the 50-million mark, adding Sky’s 23 million customers in Europe to Comcast’s 29 million in the U.S. Sky shares surged on the news and were up more than 20% by noon London time, their highest level since 2000.
Sky’s independent shareholders have yet to react to the deal, which would create a “unique leader in entertainment and technology with the resources and capabilities to compete, grow and thrive in a rapidly changing world,” Roberts said. “Our strong market positions are complementary, with Sky’s leadership in Europe pairing nicely with our strong position in the U.S. Europe is obviously a highly attractive market, and this acquisition would create a leading platform for growth.”
The U.S. company said it wants to own all of Sky but will pursue a deal as long as it can secure 50%-plus-one share of the business, raising the possibility that 21st Century Fox, which already owns 39%, would retain a stake in Sky but be stuck as a minority shareholder.
Comcast also committed to maintaining Sky’s London campus, supporting its investment in content, and keeping its technology and software hubs.
Despite Brexit and fears that major international media players will relocate their European bases away from London, Roberts said that “the U.K. is and will remain a great place to do business.”