Walt Disney raises bid for Fox assets to $71.3 billion, tops Comcast

Disney and Comcast are looking to bulk up their content with Fox’s stable of well-known television shows and movie franchises.

Picture: Supplied.

NEW YORK - Walt Disney Co raised its bid for the bulk of Twenty-First Century Fox Inc’s coveted media assets to $71.3 billion on Wednesday, sweetening its deal with cash as it looks to upend Comcast Corp’s $65 billion offer.

The new cash-or-stock offer would be an incentive for Fox’s largest shareholder, Rupert Murdoch, who owns 17% voting shares along with his family. He would be hit with a large capital gains tax bill under Comcast’s all-cash offer. Disney’s previous offer was all stock.

Disney and Comcast are looking to bulk up their content with Fox’s stable of well-known television shows and movie franchises, such as theX-Men superheroes and The Simpsons, to better compete with fast-growing digital rivals Netflix Inc and Amazon.com Inc.

Fox’s international assets such as Star India appeal to both Disney and Comcast, which are seeking to expand their global footprint.

Disney’s revised offer of $38 a share, which would be split 50-50 in cash and stock, is $10 a share higher than Disney’s first bid in December 2017. Comcast’s last bid was for $35 a share in cash.

Disney will also take on about $13.8 billion of Fox’s net debt, implying a total transaction value of about $85.1 billion.

The latest move by Disney raises the hurdle for Comcast, which has to decide whether it is feasible to counter with a higher bid.

“If Comcast wants to be taken seriously by Fox, it has to offer at least 15% higher than Disney’s offer,” CFRA Research analyst Tuna Amobi said.

Fox said that Disney’s latest offer is “superior” to the proposal made by Comcast, which declined to comment on the new bid.

ANTITRUST ISSUE

Disney Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger played down any antitrust concerns in a deal and said he has been working with regulators around the world for the past six months.

“We believe that we have a much better opportunity both in terms of approval and the timing of that approval than Comcast does in this case,” Iger said.

Fox shares jumped 7.1% to $47.88, while Comcast was dipped 0.2% at $32.75. Disney slipped 0.1% to $106.01.

Sky shares rose 3.1% as investors hoped Fox would increase its offer since the company could afford to pay more due to the bidding war. The European pay-TV group, 39% owned by Fox, is also being pursued by Comcast.

Major sports and news assets including Fox News, Fox Business Network and Fox Sports are not part of the businesses being sold and would be spun off into a separate company.

Following the deal, Fox shareholders would own about 19% of the combined company, Disney Chief Financial Officer Christine McCarthy said on a conference call.

Disney no longer expects to complete the $20 billion share repurchase announced in December, McCarthy said.

Fox said it will postpone a special shareholders meeting in order to provide stockholders with an opportunity to evaluate Disney’s amended offer.