Comcast Corp. still covets 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets and may renew a bid, ousting the Walt Disney Co. as the potential buyer, according to Comcast-owned CNBC and other news organizations.
Fox accepted Disney’s $52.4 billion in stock for its global assets in December, capping whirlwind negotiations between Fox head Rupert Murdoch and the heads of Comcast and Disney, Brian Roberts and Bob Iger.
Comcast offered substantially more for Fox’s assets — perhaps an additional $10 billion — but Murdoch was concerned that a Comcast deal would be opposed by U.S. regulators and instead opted for the lower Disney offer, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.
The Federal Communications Commission opposed Comcast’s megadeal for Time Warner Cable in 2015. Comcast owns cable-TV distribution systems and NBCUniversal entertainment conglomerate, which it acquired in 2011. Disney is mostly an entertainment company, with TV, cable networks, and theme parks.
The Fox assets being sold include the British satellite-TV operator Sky, the Indian streaming and satellite-TV Star Networks, Fox International in South America, 22 Fox-branded regional cable sports networks, a second major Hollywood studio, the FX and Nat Geo cable networks, and 30 percent of the online streamer Hulu.
Murdoch’s company has faced scandals in the United States at the Fox headquarters over sexual-harassment claims by female employees against former Fox on-air personality Bill O’Reilly and Fox News head Roger Ailes, and in Britain over reporters’ hacking of phones. 21st Century Fox would be left with mostly broadcast television stations and the highly profitable Fox News cable network after selling off the assets to Disney, or Comcast.
About 70 percent of the revenues associated with the Fox assets that could be sold are related to international operations. Murdoch, 86, spent about four decades building 21st Century Fox into a global entertainment and news giant. His family trusts control about 40 percent of the company. His sons, Lachlan, 46, and James, 44, work at Fox in leadership positions.
Comcast declined to comment on Monday.
The Philadelphia-based company has said it is interested in Fox’s international assets. A deal also could give it majority control of Hulu. Comcast already owns 30 percent of Hulu, so combing that stake with Fox’s 30 percent would give it 60 percent ownership. Expiring in September 2018 are Justice Department restrictions that keep Comcast from exercising managerial control of Hulu, which were placed on Comcast as part of its acquisition of NBCUniversal.
Comcast has attempted to tamp down speculation that it could take another run at Fox, which was first reported by the CNBC business news network, which is part of Comcast’s NBCUniversal unit. Observers say that Murdoch would eventually have to explain in Securities and Exchange Commission filings why he chose Disney over Comcast.
On Friday, Comcast’s Roberts spoke on CNBC about NBC’s airing of the Olympics and other business, but did not reference a potential new, higher bid for the Fox assets.
In the company’s fourth-quarter conference call last month, Roberts was circumspect about new deals. “With the pace of change in the industry accelerating, many of our peers are reevaluating their strategies, as we’ve seen recently,” he said.
“So, along the way there may be opportunities for us to create more value for our shareholders, like we did with NBCUniversal. In this respect, it shouldn’t be a surprise that we study every situation that comes along,” he said. “We believe our shareholders expect this from us. But the bar is set high.”