Comcast bids for Fox’s entertainment businesses to set up Disney battle

Comcast and Disney are battling for Rupert Murdoch’s company Fox (John Stillwell/PA) Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Comcast has made a $65 billion (£49bn) bid for Fox’s entertainment businesses to set up a battle with Disney to become the next mega-media company.

The bid for Rupert Murdoch’s company comes just a day after a US federal judge cleared AT&T’s takeover of Time Warner and rejected the government’s argument it would hurt competition in cable and satellite TV and increase costs to consumers for streaming TV and movies.

The ruling signalled that Comcast could win regulatory approval too, as its bid for Fox shares many similarities with the AT&T-Time Warner deal.

Comcast says its cash bid is 19% higher than the value of the Disney offer.

Disney’s offer was for $52.5 billion (£39bn) when it was made in December, though the final value will depend on the stock price at the closing.

The battle for Twenty-First Century Fox comes as traditional entertainment companies try to amass more content to compete better with technology companies such as Amazon and Netflix for viewers’ attention.

If the Comcast bid succeeds, a major cable distributor would control even more channels on its line-up and those of its rivals.

That could lead to higher cable bills or make it more difficult for online alternatives to emerge, though there is not yet evidence of either happening following other mergers.

For Disney, a successful Comcast bid could make Disney’s planned streaming service less attractive, without the Fox video.

“This is a golden offer that will put considerable pressure on (Disney CEO Bob) Iger and Disney to step up their game on another bid,” GBH Insights analyst Dan Ives said.

Content is becoming more important as ways to deliver content proliferate. Cable companies like Comcast are no longer competing only with satellite alternatives such as DirecTV, but also stand-alone services such as Netflix and cable-like online bundles through Sony, AT&T and others.

Disney has already started its own sports streaming service and plans an entertainment-focused one late next year featuring movies and shows from its own studios, which include Marvel, Pixar and Star Wars creator Lucasfilm.

With the Fox deal, Disney would get more content for those services — through the studios behind the Avatar movies, The Simpsons and Modern Family, along with National Geographic. Marvel would get back the characters previously licensed to Fox, reuniting X-Men with the Avengers.

Disney and Comcast have already been at battle in the UK over Sky TV.

Fox has a 39% stake in that company and has been trying to buy outright, with the intention of selling the full company to Disney as part of that deal.

UK regulators have given the OK to that offer if Fox sells Sky News. Regulators have also cleared Comcast’s $30.7 billion (£22bn )offer for the 61% of Sky that Mr Murdoch does not own.