Comcast outbids Fox in a $39 billion takeover of Sky

Twenty-First Century Fox and Comcast have entered into the third round of bidding in a one-day auction for Sky, sources familiar with the matter told CNBC Saturday.

According to the sources, the first two bidding rounds for Sky have been completed, with the auction entering its third and final phase. Those people could not say what the bids were, but at least one of the parties altered its bid.

Final bids are expected to be submitted around 215 pm ET, with a winner being announced shortly thereafter.

This follows an elongated bidding battle between two of America’s largest media companies over the coveted overseas competitor.

CNBC reported Thursday that Comcast was expecting Fox to raise its bid for Sky to boost the eventual offer price.

Rupert Murdoch’s Fox, which itself is set to be bought by Disney for $71.3 billion, has gone back and forth with Comcast, each firm upping its bids for the U.K.’s Sky several times.

Disney’s acquisition of Fox gives the entertainment titan Fox’s entertainment assets — which include a 39 percent stake in Sky.

Comcast’s Brian Roberts has said he views Sky as a “unique asset,” while Disney’s Bob Iger called the British broadcaster the “crown jewel” of Fox’s television and movie assets.

Sky is seen as an important asset by the American firms because it’s a major European pay-television company, with almost 23 million subscribers across the continent. It has increased its presence in digital media and so-called over-the-top (OTT) entertainment, which means content streamed to users over the internet.

With the rise of TV and video streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, U.S. media corporations see consolidation as a way to fend off digital competition.

Sky’s share price steadily rose ahead of the auction and surged as high as £15.96 ($20.86) on Friday. The stock movement indicates investors were expecting a higher takeover bid than previous advances, with some analysts suggesting the companies could place offers of £16 per share ($20.92) or more. Prior to the auction, Comcast’s highest offer for Sky was £14.75 a share ($19.28), while Fox’s highest offer trailed behind at £14 a share ($18.30).

The blind auction format is a highly unusual one for a deal as notable as the Sky acquisition. Takeover auctions are normally reserved for commercial transactions. In such auctions, bidders submit sealed offers to a third-party arbiter.

Now that bidding has come to a close, both Fox and Comcast will be required to make an announcement of their revised offer for Sky by Monday. The firms must then release a formal offer document on or before Thursday. It is then down to Sky’s board and shareholders to accept either offer, the deadline for that being October 11.

While the highest final offer is likely to be revealed Saturday, the new owner won’t be confirmed until Sky shareholders decide which bid to accept.

— Disclosure: Comcast owns NBCUniversal, the parent company of CNBC.

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