Britain’s government said Tuesday it was now prepared to give Twenty-First Century Fox the provisional go-ahead to buy Sky, subject to the sale of its Sky News channel.
If approved, it could pave the way for a dramatic bidding war with U.S. media giant Comcast.
Culture Secretary Matt Hancock said Fox’s proposal to divest Sky News to Disney — or any other suitable buyer — was likely to be the most proportionate and effective solution to tackle any outstanding public interest concerns.
In addressing Comcast’s rival bid for Sky, Hancock said he would not intervene.
Comcast submitted a competing offer for Sky in February, prompting Sky’s independent board members to withdraw their recommendation of the offer from Fox — which currently owns 39 percent of the European pay-TV group.
Murdoch’s Fox launched a bid to buy the 61 percent of Sky it does not currently own back in December 2016. However, the takeover attempt has been held up by a protracted regulatory process, amid concerns among some British lawmakers that the deal could give Murdoch too much influence over the country’s news media.
At the start of the year, the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority recommended Fox’s £18.5 billion ($24.7 billion) bid for Sky should be blocked.
To further complicate matters, even if Murdoch’s Fox beats Comcast, the media mogul is not expected to remain at the helm of the company for long because he has already agreed to sell many of his TV and film assets to Disney in a separate $52 billion deal.
Nonetheless, Fox has since sought to offer a series of concessions in an effort to address the watchdog’s concerns — including the release of Sky News to Disney on completion of a takeover of Sky.
The media landscape has seen a flurry of takeover proposals in recent months, as established players look to try to consolidate in order to remain both relevant and profitable. It comes at a time when companies such as Amazon and Netflix are driving sweeping changes to user’s consumption patterns.
Disclosure: Comcast is the owner of NBCUniversal, parent company of CNBC and CNBC.com.