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 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.
Adbrands Weekly Update 19th Jul 2018: Comcast today withdrew its bid to acquire the bulk of the entertainment assets being sold by 21st Century Fox, leaving the way open for Walt Disney to clinch that deal. Fox has already accepted Disney's bid and has shown a clear preference for that deal over a rival arrangement with Comcast. However, at the same time, Comcast reiterated its commitment to acquire 100% of European satellite broadcaster Sky. The most likely outcome now would be that Fox accepts Comcast's bid for the 39% of Sky it already owns, rather than press on with its own plans to buy the outstanding shares and then sell the whole business to Disney. Sky's board has already agreed to recommend Comcast's offer for the remaining publicly owned shares.
Adbrands Weekly Update 12th Jul 2018: The three-way battle between Fox, Disney and Comcast rages on. In a move that was intended to crush a rival offer from Comcast, 21st Century Fox raised its offer to acquire the shares it doesn't own in European satellite broadcaster Sky to £14 per share, valuing the business at £24.5bn. Comcast had previously offered £12.50 per share, topping Fox's earlier offer of £10.75. Only a day later, though, Comcast raised its own offer to £14.75, or a valuation of £26bn. Fox's intention is to take full control of Sky and then sell that business and most of its other entertainment assets to Disney. This week, Fox received a firm green light from UK regulators for the purchase of Sky, provided it commits to sell the Sky News channel to Disney or another buyer. Comcast is bidding separately for both Sky and also the whole Fox entertainment portfolio. It now looks increasingly likely that Sky and the other assets could end up with separate owners; with Comcast taking Sky and Disney the rest of the portfolio.
Adbrands Weekly Update 21st Jun 2018: Walt Disney came back hard to defend its proposed acquisition of Fox entertainment assets. It raised its original offer of $52.4bn in stock to around $71bn, of which half will now be in cash. That's a significant premium to Comcast's $65bn, although it doesn't contain as much cash. Fox immediately accepted the higher price, which it says is superior to Comcast's bid. The Murdoch family are keen to be paid in Disney shares, not just because of the tax implications but the considerable clout it would give them in the merged entity. Fox still thinks the Comcast deal would involve significant regulatory complications, despite the recent approval of AT&T/Time Warner. That's not stopping Comcast, though. Within hours of Disney's increase, it was in talks with its bankers to find ways of increasing its own offer further, perhaps to as high as $80bn. The bidding war isn't over yet.
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