Did Comcast Just Try To Eat Murdoch For Breakfast?

Well, I don't think anyone other than those involved foresaw this morning's huge media story. Comcast has a bid on the table for Sky. And not just a bid -- a raise. The NBC Universal owner has upped Fox's offer by 16% to GBP12.50 per share.

I was mulling over Fox's proposed purchase of Sky with other media commentators recently and the general consensus was that it made sense to sell a larger company to Disney, but also it was part of Rupert Murdoch making himself too big to eat. Sky or News UK could be swallowed up by a rich purchaser, but a Sky owned by 21st Century Fox -- that's an entirely different meal and only one for the largest of competitors. It means all roads lead to the likes of a Disney.

This brings us nicely to Comcast. Perhaps the most interesting part of its bid is a commitment to move ahead with the proposed deal if it gets the approval of 50% of the shareholders or more. 

Given that Murdoch owns 39% of the company, this was a sideways swipe at the media magnate saying that Comcast can buy Sky with or without his approval. 

it isn't entirely clear what Disney would make of a deal for 21st Century Fox that only includes a 39% share of Sky. It must be part of a fallback plan, given the regulatory difficulties the Murdochs have had in convincing the UK authorities that owning News UK and all of Sky does not raise any media plurality concerns, even if the same group also owns Fox News on the other side of the pond. 

That's what makes the Comcast bid so much more interesting. It doesn't own newspapers or a news channel in the UK, so there is absolutely no media plurality issues one can think of to hold up a deal. 

This is important in not only pushing through a deal for Sky, but it could feasibly pave the way for Comcast to scupper the deal between 21st Century Fox to sell to Disney. Could a Sky-owning Comcast delay the sale through withdrawing Sky from the table, or could it even use the purchase as a springboard for the rest of 21st Century Fox to prevent two massive rivals joining forces. 

Actually, I'm not so sure. Comcast's announcement was very heavy on reference to growing outside the US and making international revenues leap to a quarter of its overall income. So it's more than likely that this is an old-fashioned purchase. It is what it says on the tin. A company wants to buy another company and maybe stop a rival from having it instead.

As far as the UK is concerned, Comcast has seen a golden opportunity to allow everyone other than Murdoch to leave the table happy. 

If the deal goes through Comcast gets its international expansion and the UK regulatory authorities can play hardball with Murdoch. He had threatened to close down Sky News if the authorities claimed there was a insurmountable media plurality issue. One can only imagine how well that played with the staff at Sky News.

Comcast has been very clever here. By announcing its move before the UK Government makes its final decision at the start of May, it has given the politicians a way to stand up to Murdoch -- if that is what they want to do -- without risking the closure of Sky News. 

And Comcast is being very clear about this. With or without Murdoch's 39%, it reckons it can get the deal done, and with none of the regulatory hurdles that News UK and Fox News brings to the table. 

It's a stroke of genius. Murdoch has undoubtedly been feasting to make his interests too big to be swallowed up, unless he is willingly doing the selling. Buying Sky outright looks to be the final move. Comcast has seen this weak link in this strategy and is using it to fuel European growth. 

Maybe Murdoch hasn't been eaten for breakfast, then, but he certainly stands the risk of having his toast whipped off this plate before his full English arrives at the table. 

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