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Comcast, Verizon join race for Fox assets

Shares in 21st Century Fox have soared after it emerged US media giants Comcast and Verizon have joined Disney in attempting to acquire the company’s assets.

James Murdoch

Last week it was revealed that the Mouse House had held talks about buying Fox’s television and film production interests. NBCUniversal owner Comcast and telecoms giant Verizon are now said to have entered the fray.

The future of Fox’s entertainment operations, including its movie studio, cablenets and stake in European pay TV operator Sky, are all being discussed, according to US reports.

The interest from Disney, which has reportedly cooled over the past week, would have left Fox, run by James Murdoch, with a highly focused news and sports media company.

The addition of Fox’s TV assets and international exposure would be attractive to Disney as it gears itself up to take on the players such as Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Netflix with its forthcoming direct-to-consumer offerings.

Sources close to the deal believe Disney’s clout in the changing TV consumption landscape would allow it to compete with the new digital players, whereas many think Fox does not have the scale to do so. This was dismissed, however, by the company’s executive chairman, Lachlan Murdoch, yesterday.

Disney announced earlier this year it was pulling its film content from Netflix in 2019 and launching a rival Disney-branded international streaming service.

Any arrangement would not entail a total purchase of 21st Century Fox, with the company expected to hold on to its Fox broadcasting network, its sports programming assets, news and business channels and local broadcasting affiliates.

Fox’s assets range from a 50% stake in production giant Endemol Shine Group, a sprawling cable business that includes National Geographic and the FX network, and a 30% interest in US-based streamer Hulu.

The entry of Comcast and Verizon have prompted further speculation over just how much of the company Murdoch would be willing to sell, although any deal would be subject to significant regulatory hurdles.

Interest in Fox, whose shares were up around 8% overnight, comes as Verizon rival AT&T’s deal to buy HBO-owner Time Warner remains mired in red tape as the telco attempts to settle concerns over competition.

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