Comcast Corp. bid highest in a quick-fire auction of Sky Plc, dealing Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox Inc. a knockout blow in their battle for Europe's largest satellite broadcaster.
After three rounds of secret bidding on Friday and Saturday, Comcast offered the higher price of £17.28 (NZ$33.75) per share for Sky, the equivalent of almost £30 billion (NZ$58 billion).
Since Murdoch's Fox first tabled a £10.75 offer in December 2016, Sky shares have more than doubled, and have risen 56 per cent since the start of the year.
Comcast's knock-out offer thwarted Murdoch's long-held ambition to win control of Sky, and is also a setback for US entertainment giant Walt Disney (DIS.N) which would have likely been its ultimate owner. Deep-pocketed firms like Netflix and Amazon have eye-popping budgets and are pouring money into media production and streaming rights.
Fox noted the recommendation, saying it was considering options for its 39 percent stake and would make another announcement in due course.
The price of both offers will be announced following the auction, after which the Sky board will recommend an offer for shareholders to accept. The winning bid by Comcast values the 61% share of the company up for grabs at $40 billion. Comcast said it hoped to complete the takeover by the end of October.
Brian Roberts, chairman and chief executive of Comcast, coveted Sky to expand its global presence as growth slows in its core US market.
Both companies must now make their offers official. "In our view, Disney will become a much more complicated company for the Street to analyze upon closure of the Fox transaction, but becoming a de-factor joint venture partner on Sky with Comcast complicates the situation even further, in our opinion".
"This acquisition will allow us to quickly, efficiently and meaningfully increase our customer base and expand internationally".
Comcast, which requires 50 percent plus one share of Sky's equity to win control, said it was also seeking to buy Sky shares in the market. "Accordingly, the independent committee unanimously recommends that Sky shareholders accept the Comcast offer, and in order to ensure the successful closing of the Comcast offer, urges shareholders to accept immediately".
It is a blow to 87-year-old Murdoch and the USA media and entertainment group that he controls, which had been trying to take full ownership of Sky since December 2016.
Some politicians have opposed a deal, citing concerns about the influence Murdoch would wield over the UK's news agenda.
The future of Sky has been hanging in the balance for more than eight years.
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In the opening round, the would-be buyer with the lower offer now on the table - meaning Fox at this point - makes the first bid. They will do so knowing what their rival has done in the previous round, a source close to the process said.
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