Six years ago, Comcast's Brian Roberts, Walt Disney's Bob Iger, and Fox's Rupert Murdoch bid against one another in Lausanne, Switzerland, for the U.S. rights to televise the Olympics Games.
Roberts won that one.
On Saturday, Roberts will have a new showdown in Europe with those same adversaries. But this time Murdoch and Iger have joined together against him in a bid for the U.K.-based Sky TV service.
European analyst Ian Whittaker said in an interview on Thursday that it's a "very, very close race" between Roberts and Iger/Murdoch for Sky, which has about 23 million pay-TV and streaming subscribers in several European countries. But he gave the advantage to Comcast. "For Comcast, what they are trying to do is expand their revenues outside of North America," Whittaker told Sky News. "There is quite an urgency on their part."
Months of bidding and uncertainty over Sky TV are expected to end in dramatic fashion on Saturday when U.K. regulators auction off the pay-TV service in London. The deal has to be for cash and finalized before the London stock markets open on Monday morning, though hedge funds could hold out for a higher price even after the government-controlled auction.
Comcast — which has said it would like Sky to take it into global markets — currently leads Fox with a $34.2 billion offer for Sky. Sky also has a big content arm that produces news and shows available in the U.K., Germany, Austria, and Italy.
Fox has bid $32.5 billion. So under U.K. takeover rules, Fox can top Comcast in the first stage of the auction. If it does, Comcast can come back and top Fox in the second stage of the bidding.
Then, for the final, third stage, Comcast and Fox/Disney will offer sealed bids.
"Shareholders will be delighted at how this has all played out," said Laith Khalaf, a senior analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown told Reuters.
But there still is some uncertainty. The Takeover Panel running the auction has arcane rules. In addition, hedge funds have bought huge amounts of Sky shares and could seek more money by not tendering their shares to the winning bidder even after the auction.
"We still have the ability at the end of it to say no, sorry, you still haven't bid enough," British hedge fund manager Crispin Odey, whose firm, Odey Asset Management, is a Sky shareholder, told Reuters on Thursday.