Disney Raises Offer for 21st Century Fox in Bidding War With Comcast

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The Walt Disney Company sharply increased its offer for 21st Century Fox on Wednesday, as it looks to win a bidding war with Comcast for Rupert Murdoch’s entertainment conglomerate.

In a quickly issued statement agreeing to the sweetened deal, 21st Century Fox said that the revamped offer from Disney, now valued at $71.3 billion, was “superior to the proposal” made by Comcast last week.

The bid by Disney is 35 percent higher than its earlier offer and about $6 billion more than Comcast’s.

Disney’s chief executive, Robert A. Iger, who has staked his legacy on this deal, made the new offer just before Fox’s board was to meet Wednesday to discuss Comcast’s latest proposal, which had topped Disney’s earlier bid. Now Comcast will have to decide whether to counter this latest offer.

The Comcast chief executive, Brian L. Roberts, is equally motivated to seal an agreement with Mr. Murdoch, who has spent a lifetime forging a media empire that includes Hollywood studios, cable networks and streaming businesses, and spans three continents.

[With its new bid, Disney is trying to thread a needle. Read DealBook’s analysis.]

But Disney has the pole position for now. “We remain convinced that the combination of 21CF’s iconic assets, brands and franchises with Disney’s will create one of the greatest, most innovative companies in the world,” Mr. Murdoch said in the statement.

Comcast declined to comment.

At stake in this bidding war is the 20th Century Fox film studio, the FX and National Geographic cable channels, almost two dozen regional sports networks and a large stake in a pair of sought-after international media businesses, the European pay-TV operator Sky and Star India. Fox News, the Fox broadcast network, a chain of local television stations and the FS1 sports network are not part of the sale.

Separately, Comcast is also bidding against Fox for the 61 percent of Sky that Fox doesn’t already own.

Fox’s healthy foreign assets are a central reason Comcast and Disney are pursuing a deal as they, like other media companies, wrestle with a decay in their cornerstone business: cable and satellite customers.

Gaining Fox’s assets would also give the winner control over streaming service Hulu, which added 3 million subscribers in the first four months of this year for a total of 20 million. Selling TV shows directly to viewers is the latest strategy for media businesses under threat from Silicon Valley, where cash-rich behemoths like Netflix, Google and Amazon are competing for ad dollars and audiences.

“At a time of dynamic change in the entertainment industry, the combination of Disney’s and Fox’s unparalleled collection of businesses and franchises will allow us to create more appealing high-quality content,” Mr. Iger said in a statement.

Disney’s increased offer comes as an equal mix of cash and stock: $35.7 billion in cash and 343 million shares in Disney. Fox shareholders can elect to receive either $38 in cash for every Fox share or Disney stock at an equivalent value. Disney plans to offer a ratio of its shares for every Fox share to make sure investors get a value of $38 per share, what is known as a collar.

Should Comcast come back with another offer, the Fox board would not only have to calculate the dollar value but also the likelihood of passing government inspection. Both Disney and Comcast would face antitrust scrutiny, which is part of the merger calculus that Mr. Murdoch will have to make before choosing an eventual winner.

There is already bad blood between Disney and Comcast. The rancor stretches back to at least 2004, when Comcast tried to swallow Disney. The Disney board fought off that attempt, but Mr. Iger and his top lieutenants have never forgotten it. And a trip on the Jurassic Park rides at NBCUniversal’s theme parks gives a glimpse of what Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal, thinks of its rival: One of Disney’s famous mouse ear hats floats next to a raft that has been destroyed by a dinosaur.

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