Sky bid tussle to be settled by auction

Game of Thrones Image copyright HBO
Image caption Game of Thrones draws big audiences for Sky in the UK

The takeover of broadcaster Sky will be settled by an auction, the UK's Takeover Panel has announced.

The broadcaster has been subject to rival bids from Rupert Murdoch's Fox and US conglomerate Comcast.

The Takeover Panel said that the auction would start at 17:00 London time on Friday and end on Saturday evening.

It said all parties had agreed to the process, which will have a maximum of three rounds.

Fox had looked set to take over the 61% of Sky it does not already own until Comcast topped Fox's bid.

Fox raised its offer to £24.5bn, but this was soon trumped by a £26bn bid from Comcast.

The process has also been beset by regulatory issues amid concerns over media plurality and the degree of Mr Murdoch's influence over the UK media landscape.

Ian Whittaker, head of European media research at Liberum Capital, said it was rare for takeovers to go to an auction in this way, but it would ensure that the long-running battle for Sky came to a conclusion.

He said: "To give credit to the Takeover Panel, what they have done is to act decisively to stop this thing dragging on.

"It's a very unusual course of action, but it's the best course of action."

The battle for Sky: Why it matters

Sky is "a jewel in a crown", says media analyst Alice Enders.

The broadcaster has nearly 23 million pay-TV subscribers in Europe, with more scope for expansion there than in the US, and it has a broadband business.

In February, Sky Sports won the rights to UK Premier League TV packages, and Sky also licenses shows including Game of Thrones, as well as producing its own original content.

No matter who wins the bidding war, Sky subscribers are likely to face higher prices, Ms Enders says.

The bidding war has pushed Sky's price up to more than £24bn, and that is likely to be recouped from customers, she says.

Growing business

Also at issue is the fate of 24-hour news channel Sky News, which could end up being sold separately or ring-fenced in order to preserve its editorial integrity.

Sky has nearly 23 million pay-TV subscribers in the UK and Ireland, Italy, Austria and Germany.

It reported pre-tax profits up 7.5% over the 12 months to the end of June and added more than 500,000 customers across Europe.

The future of Sky has been hanging in the balance for more than eight years - and the nature of the game has changed in the meantime.

The process began when Mr Murdoch's original News Corp put forward a bid for full control of what was then BSkyB.

That bid was scuppered by the phone-hacking scandal that engulfed Mr Murdoch's UK tabloid newspapers and tarnished the firm's reputation.

The bid was revived in December 2016, by which time News Corp had been broken up, leaving 21st Century Fox as one of its successors.

The process has been complicated by Disney's deal to buy most of Fox's assets, which is due to be completed next year if approved by international regulators.

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