Ben Martin, Carl O’Donnell and Shashwat Awasthi
Twenty-First Century Fox has triggered a 46-day deadline to raise its bid for Sky in a battle with Comcast for control of the British pay-TV group.
Under British takeover rules, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox now has until September 22 to trump Comcast’s £14.75 per share offer for Sky, which values the broadcaster at £25.9bn, after it formalised its own £14 per share bid.
Comcast gatecrashed Fox’s attempt to buy the 61% of Sky that it does not already own earlier this year and the US cable giant’s latest, higher offer, which it submitted in July, has been recommended to shareholders by the broadcaster’s independent directors.
Fox posted its formal offer document, without improving its price, on Tuesday, setting in motion a timetable to end the uncertainty over Sky’s future by triggering a 46-day period during which both Fox and Comcast can lift their offers.
If the situation is not resolved by then, Britain’s Takeover Panel can run an auction to bring the complex and long-winded transatlantic takeover battle for Sky to an end. However, Fox may opt to walk away from the Sky deal rather than taking on Comcast, sources said.
Sky acknowledged Fox’s offer document and said its independent committee would respond to the offer within 14 days.
Since submitting its first £10.75 per share bid for Sky in December 2016, Fox has agreed to sell the bulk of its TV and film assets, including its Sky stake, to Walt Disney.
Comcast had been vying with Disney for the Fox assets but last month dropped its pursuit to focus on Sky.
The Takeover Panel, which regulates merger and acquisitions in Britain, ruled earlier this year that Disney would have to make an offer for the rest of Sky if its deal for the Fox assets completes before either Comcast or Fox acquire the UK broadcaster.
The regulator said last month that the level of any mandatory Disney offer should be £14 a share, the same price as Fox’s offer.
But the Takeover Appeal Board, an independent body, said yesterday that “several interested parties” had lodged appeals against the ruling and that it would meet to consider their petitions.