Disney buys Euro TV giant Sky ahead of Amazon, Facebook assault in sports broadcasting
By Ben PERRY/Agence France-Presse
By purchasing Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox empire, Disney will become the single largest shareholder in Sky — the pan-European satellite television broadcaster of live English Premier League football.
Walt Disney Co. said Thursday it had reached a deal with Murdoch to buy 21st Century Fox — including its 39 percent stake in pay-TV giant Sky — for $52.4 billion (44.3 billion euros).
Prior to the deal, 21st Century Fox had launched a controversial takeover bid for the 61 percent of Sky that it does not own and has not announced any decision to back out of that.
Sky’s jewel in the crown is its Premier League offering, while Disney’s bid comes amid speculation that Amazon and Facebook could muscle in on an already fierce battle to broadcast games to UK viewers.
Sky spent a huge £4.2 billion ($5.6 billion, 4.8 billion euros) to show live games involving the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea for three seasons to 2019 — and analysts believe the amount could rocket should the online giants join the next round of bidding.
The only other company currently showing live Premier League games in Britain is communications group BT, which spent far less than Sky but for far fewer matches.
Formerly known as BSkyB, Sky has become a European giant with almost 23 million households across Britain, Ireland, Germany, Austria and Italy.
Sky, which also provides broadband internet and telephone services, had revenues of near £13 billion in 2016 and is profiting also from its broadcast of cult US series “Games of Thrones”.
It offers access also to blockbuster films and the 24-hour Sky news channel.
– UK probe –
Prior to Disney’s move, Sky shareholders in October voted in favour of re-electing Rupert Murdoch’s son James as chairman, despite concerns about his impartiality in the face of its possible full takeover by 21st Century Fox.
Some investor groups had expressed unease over James Murdoch serving any longer, in light of his other role as chief executive of 21st Century Fox.
The takeover of Sky has been held up by a UK investigation into the proposed deal worth £11.7 billion, with regulators assessing Rupert Murdoch’s influence on Britain’s political landscape.
Britain’s Competitions and Markets Authority has been scrutinising the impact of the Murdoch family’s proposed deal on both UK broadcasting standards and media plurality, with it owning also major British newspaper titles The Times and The Sun.
Sky changed its name from BSkyB after agreeing in 2014 to buy Sky Italia and a majority holding in Sky Deutschland.
In 2011, Rupert Murdoch was forced to abandon a takeover bid for BSkyB — as controversy raged over the hacking of celebrities and crime victims by his tabloid the News of the World, which was subsequently shut down.