A U.K. regulator has announced the winner of the Comcast and 21st Century Fox fight to acquire pay-TV broadcaster Sky will be determined by an auction that begins Friday.
The decision by the U.K. Takeover Panel to opt for an auction – which can run a maximum of three rounds and ends Saturday – means the 21-month fight over Sky that included many global media and entertainment heavyweights and a series of ever-higher bids this year from Fox and Comcast will come down to a final bidding war this weekend.
In a statement Thursday, the Takeover Panel said the auction, assuming “a competitive situation continues to exist,” would begin at 5 p.m. London time Friday and end Saturday evening. The winning offer will be announced Saturday.
After discussions with both companies vying for Sky, and noting that neither Comcast nor Fox has declared its final offer, the Takeover Panel said it established the auction procedure “to provide an orderly framework for the resolution of the competitive situation.”
The current highest bid for Sky was a $34 billion bid from Comcast made July 11.
21st Century Fox, which is led by media mogul Rupert Murdoch, already owns 39% of Sky. (Walt Disney, however, has agreed to acquire a big portion of Fox for roughly $71 billion, including a stake in Sky.) Murdoch still has ambitions to boost his holdings in the U.K. media prize. 21st Century Fox made its first bid for the chunk of Sky it doesn’t already own in December 2016.
Comcast, the parent of NBC and Universal Pictures, would use a purchase of Sky as a way to boost its presence and growth in Europe.
Sky offers a wide range of entertainment, business and sports programming, including broadcast rights to England’s Premier League soccer games. It has roughly 23 million customers and a large TV presence in European countries, such as Germany, Italy and Ireland, as well as the U.K.
Back in February, when it made its first bid for Sky, Comcast CEO and chairman Brian Roberts called Sky a “great asset” that would help his company “more effectively compete in the rapidly changing and intensely competitive entertainment and communications landscape.”
Comcast entered the bidding war for Sky in February when it said it was considering making an offer, according to the Takeover Panel. Comcast made its first bid in April before upping its offer to $34 billion in July, topping 21st Century Fox’s bid.
Using auctions to close major takeover deals is rare. This weekend’s auction of Sky, which has a market value of $35 billion, would mark the biggest takeover deal involving a British company via auction since the Takeover Panel was created in 1968.
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