NEW YORK: Comcast raised its bid for pan-European TV group Sky late on Wednesday (Jul 11), topping an offer from 21st Century Fox made only hours earlier and escalating a takeover battle as media giants reposition themselves for the streaming era.
Comcast lifted its bid for Sky to £26 billion (US$34.3 billion) only hours after Rupert Murdoch's Fox boosted its offer for the 61 per cent of Sky it does not own.
Fox' latest bid values Sky at £24.5 billion (US$32.4 billion).
The battle for Sky comes as Comcast is also embroiled in a takeover battle with Disney for Fox entertainment assets that are being split off from Murdoch's empire. Some analysts have said Comcast could drop its bid for the Fox assets if it wins Sky.
Sky's jewel in the crown is its live coverage of English Premier League soccer, while the group also provides broadband internet and telephone services.
Media giants such as Disney and Comcast have been looking to beef up their creative offerings to compete with Netflix and other streaming services that are eroding the value of conventional cable television assets.
The latest back-and-forth started on Wednesday morning London time when New York-listed Fox raised its offer to £14 for each outstanding share, up substantially on a previous tilt that was pitched at £10.75.
"As the founding shareholder of Sky, we have remained deeply committed to bringing these two organisations together to create a world-class business positioned to deliver the very best entertainment experiences well into the future," Fox said.
"The enhanced scale and capabilities of the combination will enrich Sky's ability to continue on its mission for years to come, especially at a time of dynamic change in our industry."
But only hours later Comcast rebutted the Fox move, releasing a bid after US markets closed of £14.75 per share, about five per cent above the Fox proposal.
Comcast said its sweetened offer has been accepted by Sky independent Committee directors.
"Comcast has long admired Sky and believes it is an outstanding company and a great fit with Comcast," the company said in a statement released after the US stock market closed.
"Today's announcement further underscores Comcast's belief and its commitment to owning Sky."
CONCERNS OVER PLURALITY
Fox's long-running pursuit for all of Sky has been plagued by UK government fears over media plurality and broadcasting standards - and the influence of Australian-born US citizen Murdoch.
Murdoch owns major British newspaper titles The Times and The Sun. Critics say obtaining full control also of the rolling television channel Sky News would give him too much influence in the news business.
To remedy this, Fox has proposed to sell Sky News to Disney.
Disney has gained the upper hand in the battle with Comcast for Fox's assets, winning US regulatory approval for the transaction and scheduling a Jul 27 shareholder vote on the proposed US$71.3 billion deal.
Still, Comcast has not walked away from trying to overtake the Fox-Disney tie-up.
Assets in the Fox deal include production companies responsible for "The Simpsons" and "Modern Family," film production businesses and a major stake in the online platform Hulu.
Should Disney's bid for the Fox assets succeed, it will also obtain Fox's 39 per cent stake in Sky as part of the package.
Shares of Comcast rose 0.2 per cent in after hours trading on Wednesday to US$33.82, while Fox slipped 0.1 per cent to US$47.34. Disney was unchanged.