When news reports of Disney’s interest in buying 21st Century Fox’s assets outside of North American news and sports properties came out earlier this month, it was a big deal even without the talks currently ongoing. Disney CEO Bob Iger downplayed that interest a bit during his company’s Q4 earnings call, but did say “we’ll always be looking to add.” However, it now seems that they’re not the only major entertainment player targeting those Fox assets, as The Wall Street Journal and CNBC both reported Thursday that NBC Universal parent Comcast is now going after parts of Fox too. And as per CNBC, “Comcast is interested in the same set of assets that Disney approached Fox about.” Oh, and Verizon is interested too, as per the WSJ.
What would those assets include? Well, as per CNBC’s David Faber’s initial report on the Disney-Fox talks, properties involved were the movie studio, TV production, international assets such as Star and Sky, and entertainment networks such as FX and National Geographic. Thanks to their ownership of NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, NBCSN et al, Comcast also likely wouldn’t be able to buy the Fox broadcast network, Fox News, Fox Business or FS1 given antitrust worries. (And antitrust concerns could still kick in even without that, as this would provide a lot of consolidation on the entertainment side, and the Department of Justice is reportedly set to sue over the AT&T – Time Warner deal, which looks less problematic from a consolidation standpoint given the lack of overlap between those companies.)
Here are more specifics from CNBC’s new report on the Comcast talks, written by Evelyn Chung and Jeffrey McCracken:
Talks are ongoing, a source said.
Comcast is interested in the same set of assets that Disney approached Fox about earlier this year, sources said. Also of interest to Comcast is acquiring the international assets of Fox, given that the Philadelphia-based company is heavily concentrated in the U.S.
Disney under U.S. rules could not own two broadcast networks. And that would be the same case with Comcast. Neither company is talking about purchasing all of Fox, sources told CNBC.
Any deal by Comcast or Disney would also likely exclude Fox’s news and sports programming assets for fear of running foul of antitrust laws.
Fox shares jumped more than 6 percent in after-hours trading. Comcast shares rose about 0.75 percent, while Disney shares were mildly lower.
CNBC reported Friday that while the Disney and Fox talks were not ongoing, a deal was not totally dead.
As with the talks of Disney taking over these properties, there would be sports implications here even without Fox Sports changing hands. Picking up Sky and Star in particular could change things for NBC and possibly help them on the streaming side, where they’re already selling plenty of individual sport packages. And there might be some nice integrations for NBC with their coverage of sports that are big in Europe and/or Asia, such as the English Premier League, cycling, rugby and cricket. Beyond sports, it could be pretty helpful to have a movie studio and another TV studio, to say nothing of those extra entertainment networks. (And hey, that could give NBC extra places to put spillover sports coverage during the Olympics or the final day of the Premier League.)
The larger picture here is the pursuit of scale and the push towards further media consolidation, too. Faber’s piece mentioned that the Disney talks came out of “a growing belief among [Fox] senior management that scale in media is of immediate importance and there is not a path to gain that scale in entertainment through acquisition.” Talks with Comcast suggest that belief is still very present at Fox, even if the Disney talks didn’t turn out to be immediately successful. And Comcast brings some interesting angles to the table, as they’re also a major cable and internet provider, not just a content company. As with their purchase of NBC, a deal with Fox might require some regulatory conditions that they couldn’t favor content from their own company. NBC’s own 30 Rock reminded us years ago that vertical integration isn’t always a positive for consumers:
We’ll see if these talks go anywhere, but it’s certainly notable that Comcast is also interested in purchasing these parts of Fox. Having multiple interested buyers could perhaps make a Fox sale more likely, and/or drive up the price. And keep in mind that there are lots of other big-name entertainment players out there, as the mention of Verizon illustrates. Tthere are plenty of tech companies that could get in on this, too, so Comcast may not be the last to throw their hat into the ring.