As the head of Disney, Mr. Iger has completed several major acquisitions, including the purchases of Pixar Studios, Lucasfilm and Marvel Entertainment, though all were private transactions that did not require approval of public shareholders.
The Fox board has scheduled a shareholder meeting for July 10 to vote on the Disney offer, but that meeting could be moved back if Comcast makes its bid, as it is expected to do as a result of Tuesday’s ruling.
AT&T’s victory shows the way forward for the media industry, which has grappled with a sharp slowdown in the past few years. The decline in pay TV subscribers has blunted businesses once thought to be invincible. ESPN, owned by Disney, has seen a significant drop in viewership as younger viewers spend more time on platforms like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
Mergers will allow companies to compete for costlier rights to professional sports, seen as perhaps the only way to keep viewers from cutting the cable cord, and to build out their streaming services.
The pay TV industry may not be dying, but it is “slowly grinding down,” said Michael Nathanson, a founder of research firm MoffettNathanson.
Besides the coming fight over 21st Century Fox, CBS and Viacom are locked in a will-they or won’t-they situation, hinging on one of the bitterest boardroom fights in recent memory. Discovery’s $11.9 billion purchase of Scripps last year seems modest by comparison, since both of those companies revealed weak performance at the time of the merger.
Mr. Nathanson said he thought Disney will ultimately succeed in its pursuit of Fox because it has less debt than Comcast.
“But at some point, if the bid is too high from Comcast,” he said, “then Disney will have to walk away.”