Comcast's cash bid for Fox sets up clash of business titans with Disney

Business

In trying to bust up Disney’s $52.4bn (£39bn) all share acquisition of most of Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox with a $65bn cash counter bid, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts is the Thanos of the business world, the super villain who could destroy one of the fondest wishes of geekdom.

I’m talking about the bringing together of the X Men and Avengers movie franchises. For the uninformed, the X Men, like the Avengers, are Marvel characters but while Disney owns Marvel, Fox has the film rights. Were Disney to win the battle it could bring them together and create a golden goose.  

That probably wasn’t at the forefront of Disney boss Bog Iger’s mind when he was putting his deal together, however. Keeping up with the masters of the universe at Netflix, and future proofing Disney, as far as that can be done, was the thing. 

Fox’s 30 per cent of Hulu, a streaming service, best known over here as the maker of the Handmaiden’s Tale, would help with that. 

Disney has 30 per cent already. Time Warner has ten. The other 30 is held by, you got it, Comcast. So the winner in the two’s battle would get control, and that would be a nice prize given Hulu is a serious domestic competitor to Netflix. 

Don’t forget, there’s also Sky, a raft of other movies, and TV franchises, to create a global empire with. 

It’s globalising their businesses, and the changes that streaming services have helped to fuel, that are motivating both sides in what is turning into one of Wall Street’s best takeover battles, one that may yet serve up the sort of twist that the writers who generate the rich reservoir of Fox Studios content specialise in. 

With lots of Americans cutting the cable cord, and media growth slowing in the US, Mr Roberts arguably needs this the most. The money he’s prepared to put up is telling and it does rather look like a knockout blow. 

But you never quite know what Mr Murdoch is going to do. He would be one of Disney’s biggest shareholders if sticks with Mr Iger, which might be attractive to him. 

He’s legally obliged to consider what’s on the table from Comcast, because there are other shareholders with a keen interest in what happens, but he’s already sent Mr Roberts packing once, despite his brandishing an apparently better offer, as he was at pains to point out in a letter to Mr Murdoch and his sons Lachlan and James. 

Regulatory concerns played a role in that decision, but they may be less of an issue now that American antitrust watchdogs have cleared the tie up between telecoms giant AT&T and Time Warner, in the face of opposition from the Trump administration, and to the disgust of some of those in the independent media. 

Mr Roberts has offered to sweeten his bid with more than $4bn, to cover the cost of the break fee with Disney and provide a bung should the watchdogs say no. He has good reason to believe they won’t. 

The longer this tug of war goes on, the more Mr Murdoch looks like the real winner. He’s losing an empire but sits in the box seat with his pick of two pots of gold. 

Whether the one he selects also looks like a winner in five, or ten, years time is open to question. Even the real Thanos might struggle to cope with the forces of change that continue to burn through the media. 

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