By Greg Roumeliotis and Liana B Baker
US cable operator Comcast is asking investment banks to increase a bridge financing facility by as much as $60bn (€50.6bn) so it can make an all-cash offer for the media assets that Twenty-First Century Fox has agreed to sell to Walt Disney for $52bn (€44bn).
Comcast chief executive Brian Roberts only plans to proceed with the bid if a federal judge allows AT&T’s planned $85bn (€72bn) acquisition of Time Warner to proceed, sources said. The US Department of Justice has opposed the AT&T-Time Warner deal over antitrust concerns, and a decision from US District Court Judge Richard Leon is expected in June.
Disney chief executive Bob Iger clinched an all-stock deal with Fox executive chairman Rupert Murdoch in December to acquire Fox’s film, television and international businesses, giving the world’s largest entertainment company an arsenal of shows and movies to combat growing digital rivals Netflix and Amazon.com.
Comcast, owner of NBC and Universal Pictures, has also made a £22bn (€25bn) offer to acquire the 61% stake in Sky that Fox does not already own. In doing so, it topped an earlier offer for the entirety of Sky by Fox.
Last November, Comcast offered to acquire most of Fox’s assets in an all-stock deal valued at $34.41 (€29.02) per share, or $64bn (€54bn), a regulatory filing showed last month. Like Disney, Comcast sought to buy Fox’s entertainment networks, movie studios, television production and international assets, the filing shows.
Fox ended up announcing an all-stock deal with Disney for $29.54 (€24.91) per share. In the filing, Disney and Fox cited regulatory hurdles as reasons to reject Comcast’s bid, even though they did not reference it by name.
The exact value of Comcast’s new bid for the Fox assets is not yet clear, although the $60bn (€50.6bn) in new financing indicates it is seeking significant firepower to outbid Disney. Comcast already has a $30bn (€25.3bn) bridge loan to finance its Sky offer.
Mr Murdoch, who owns close to a 17% stake in Fox and about 40% of the voting power, prefers to be paid in stock rather than cash for the Fox assets, because this makes the transaction non-taxable for shareholders. It is not clear how receptive he would be to an all-cash offer.