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21st Century Fox increases offer for Sky and tops Comcast offer



LONDON-Rupert Murdoch

21st Century Fox
Inc.


FOX 0.53%

significantly raised its offer price to consolidate ownership of

Heaven


SKYAY 0.85%

PLC, heating up a bidding war with

Comcast
Corp.


CMCSA -0.66%

for the British television network.

Fox raised its offer to approximately 61% of Sky that it no longer owns by more than 30%, at £ 14 per share, in a deal that values ​​all Sky at £ 24.5 billion ($ 32.5 billion). Fox said Sky's independent directors agreed to the new offer.

The offer tops a competing offer from Comcast, which is competing with Fox for Sky and could return with a higher bid, still. Comcast is also competing with

Walt Disney
Co.

in a bidding war for a large portion of Fox's assets, including Fox's current 39% stake in Sky. Fox's biggest offer for Sky, released early Wednesday, essentially reinforces Fox's agreement to sell those assets to Disney.

Mr. The fox of Murdoch launched his bet on all Sky more than 18 months ago. In the year and a half since then, the agreement has been wrapped up in a long overhaul of the government in the UK, which is expected to come to an end later this week. More recently, the search has become one of the main focuses of a much larger corporate battle, pitting Disney against Comcast.

Both media giants have launched competing offers for many of the assets that now make up Murdoch's Fox. That includes his current 39% stake in Sky. Both Disney and Comcast see Sky as a way to expand their media and distribution channels overseas.

Comcast has made its own separate bid for Sky, offering £ 12.50 per share, an additional premium to Fox's original offer of £ 10.75.

A Comcast representative could not be contacted immediately for comment on Wednesday.

Sky shares opened 1.4% lower at £ 14.81. Wednesday.

The UK Takeover Panel, a regulatory body that handles corporate agreements, also had the power to demand a better offer from Fox if it had not raised it on its own.

Somehow, the battle for Sky has become a substitute for the larger media war between Disney and Comcast, for a broader portfolio of Fox assets. Fox first agreed to sell those assets to Disney for $ 52,400 millions in cash and shares. Comcast rushed to offer $ 56 billion in cash, which led to the last offer of $ 71.3 billion dollars from Disney.

The Wall Street Journal reported late last month that Comcast is considering a variety of options, including abandoning its search for Fox, offering a higher offer on its own or tapping partners to join the fray should approach the range of $ 90 billion.

Sky is one of the crown jewels of Mr. Murdoch's media empire. It could help both Disney and Comcast, even without Fox's other assets, to compete with new entrants such as Netflix Inc. Sky produces its own content, while its satellite and broadband offerings reach millions of European households. This combination of content and distribution has driven years of consolidation in the United States. Sky offers both Disney and Comcast a rare vehicle to propel it out of the country.

Fox still awaits final approval from London to move forward with the agreement, a green light that many expect this week.

The government weighed in months if the consolidation of Sky by Fox – which operates a popular news channel in the United Kingdom – would constitute an overconcentration of ownership among the British media. Mr. Murdoch and his family are important shareholders at 21st Century Fox, as well as at News Corp, which owns several large American newspapers. News Corp also owns The Wall Street Journal.

The UK culture minister has indicated a separate deal by Fox to sell the Sky News operation to Disney, it would be enough to avoid any excessive concentration of media ownership. The government was expected to make a final decision this week.

Write to Chip Cummins at chip.cummins@wsj.com and Ben Dummett at ben.dummett@wsj.com

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