Comcast is America's leading cable television operator, now under the Xfinity brand, and also one of the world's biggest media owners following the acquisition of NBC Universal. That deal followed several earlier attempts to build a content offering, initially through the bolt-on of its own portfolio of cable channels. An ambitious bid to acquire Walt Disney came to nothing in 2004, but five years later the group entered talks with General Electric to acquire a controlling stake in the latter's NBC Universal subsidiary. A deal was agreed at the end of 2009, and was finally cleared by regulators at the beginning of 2011, giving Comcast management control of one of America's most famous TV networks as well as a major movie studio. Despite NBC Universal's continuing challenges, the group bought out GE's remaining stake in NBCU in 2013, more than a year earlier than expected. In Feb 2014, Comcast offered to acquire smaller rival Time Warner Cable for $45bn in a deal that would have merged the #1 and #2 cable networks in the US. Despite more than a year of negotiations with regulators, the deal was eventually abandoned in Apr 2015 after it was referred by the FCC to an administrative hearing. In 2018, Comcast intervened in a plan by 21st Century Fox to sell the bulk of its entainment assets to Walt Disney. After several months of wrangling, Comcast withdrew from the main contest to focus its efforts on acquiring Fox-controlled satellite broadcaster Sky. It was finally victorious in September 2018, with a bid of around $39bn.
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Adbrands Daily Update 15th May 2019: Comcast agreed to transfer full operational control of Hulu to Disney in return for a five-year partnership agreement running until Jan 2024. The two sides will divide WarnerMedia's recently reacquired 10% stake between them, lifting the equity split in Hulu to Disney 66% / Comcast 33%. Comcast will continue to license NBCU content to the platform during that period, and will also carry Hulu on its Xfinity service. In 2024, a reciprocal put/call option comes into effect whereby either side can force the transfer of Comcast's remaining stake to Disney for a minimum valuation of $9bn. That figure could go higher, subject to an independent valuation of Hulu. NBCU CEO Steve Burke called the deal "a perfect outcome for us... the extension of the content-licensing agreement will generate significant cash flow for us, while giving us maximum flexibility to program and distribute to our own direct-to-consumer platform."
Adbrands Daily Update 26th Apr 2019: Comcast was reported by CNBC to be talks to sell its 30% shareholding in streaming platform Hulu to majority owner Disney. The House of Mouse now had 60% of that service following its acquisition of Fox, and the remaining 10% was recently reacquired by Hulu itself from AT&T/WarnerMedia. The latter deal valued Hulu at around $15bn, so Comcast's stake would be worth around $4.5bn. Comcast CEO Brian Roberts declined to be drawn on the reports in an interview, telling CNBC, "We have no new news today on [Hulu], other than it's really valuable. And we're really glad we own a large piece of it."
Adbrands Daily Update 15th Jan 2019: Comcast is the latest media owner to announce plans for its own dedicated streaming service. Fighting back against Disney's planned entertainment stream which launches this year, Comcast said it will debut its own equivalent offer in 2020, using content from its NBCUniversal content division as well as bought in or commissioned material. It said the service would be available free to subscribers of Comcast cable in the US or Sky in Europe, and possibly also to the customers of other US cable providers. Its goal is to maximise audience in order to maximise ad revenues. The channel will be headed by Bonnie Hammer, now NBCU's chairman of direct-to-consumer & digital enterprises.
Adbrands Weekly Update 11th Oct 2018: That was fast. Comcast this week became 75% owner of European satellite broadcaster Sky, following the transfer of 21st Century Fox's 39% controlling stake. Most of Fox's appointed representatives, including chairman James Murdoch, have resigned from the board. It's the end of an era for the Murdoch clan, but a brave new world for Sky (and indeed Comcast). "We are pleased today to be the majority owner of Sky," said Comcast CEO Brian Roberts. "Led by Jeremy Darroch and his superb team - now together with Comcast - our combined global leadership in technology and content paves the way for us to accelerate investment and growth in Sky’s brand and premier platforms. We are also fully committed to ensuring Sky News' future, maintaining its editorial independence, and preserving its strong track record for trusted, high quality, impartial news."
Adbrands Weekly Update 27th Sep 2018: Comcast was victorious in a nail-biting blind auction last Saturday for European satellite broadcaster Sky, fighting off a rival bid from Sky's part-owner Fox in partnership with Walt Disney. In an unprecedented move for a business of this size, UK regulators called the auction to end months of bid and counter-bid between the two sides. After two inconclusive early rounds, Comcast seized the prize in the final contest with an offer of £17.28 per share - equivalent to a total price of £30.6bn or around $39bn - against £15.67 from Fox and Disney. As a result, Disney will proceed with the purchase of the other 21st Century Fox assets as planned. Fox has already said it will surrender its existing 39% stake in Sky to Comcast, which has in turn confirmed that Sky will maintain its notional independence. "The consistent theme at Comcast has been letting leaders of our businesses make their own decisions, being decentralised and keeping an entrepreneurial spirit," said Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said. "We've said this to [Sky CEO] Jeremy [Darroch] and the rest of the Sky team... They will be able to act as an independent company but with the resources of a $150bn company behind them." One hurdle remains: the deal requires majority acceptance by Sky's shareholders; but the decision by Fox to surrender its own 39% stake appears to make full acceptance inevitable.
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