Fox owns 39 percent of Sky, which Disney CEO Bob Iger has called a "crown jewel" among Fox's assets. But when Disney decided last week to increase its offer for Fox to $71.3 billion ($38 a share), topping Comcast's bid, Fox did not raise its corresponding bid to buy the 61 percent of Sky that it doesn't already own.
While Fox is a much bigger name in the U.S., Sky isn't small potatoes — it could be worth more than $65 billion itself. That's a huge company to hang in the balance as a potential bargaining chip in the larger fight for Fox. People close to Sky are unsure about how Disney sees its future should Iger end up victorious in buying Fox, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be named because its internal discussions were private.
Fox and Disney are working together to decide if Fox will again bid for Sky. Fox doesn't have to bump its bid yet, and Sky isn't ready to put either bid to a shareholder vote. But several people close to Sky thought an increased bid would come at the same time Disney bumped its bid for Fox.
It could be that Disney is signaling to Comcast that it's willing to let Sky go if Comcast will give up on Fox, said Jonathan Chaplin, an analyst at New Street Research. Disney and Comcast can't directly communicate about splitting any of the Fox assets unless Fox releases Disney from its already-signed merger agreement.
"If Disney doesn't bid again on Sky, perhaps Comcast lets them take Fox for $38 a share, and Comcast walks away with Sky, and you don't force each side to overpay massively," said Chaplin. "They could save each other a lot of hassle."
Fox said in a regulatory filing that it "remains committed to the Sky acquisition and is currently considering its options. Completion of the Sky acquisition is not a condition to either party’s obligation to consummate the transactions."
Fox and Disney spokespeople declined to comment. A Sky spokesperson couldn't immediately be reached for comment.