21st Century Fox increases bid for UK broadcaster Sky in battle with Comcast

  • Fox increased its offer to £14 per share on Wednesday morning, up from £10.75 per share.
  • Fox, which already owns a 39 percent stake of Sky, said it had secured the backing of the independent committee of Sky for the deal.
  • Sky is seen as one of the media industry’s most coveted prizes for U.S. companies looking to expand their operations to Europe and to compete with upstarts like Netflix and Amazon.

Rupert Murdoch’s Twenty-First Century Fox said it had secured a deal to buy Britain’s Sky on Wednesday, ratcheting up the pressure on rival bidder Comcast to return with an even higher offer.

The fight to buy the European television group is part of a broader battle being waged in the global entertainment industry as American media giants offer tens of billions of dollars in deals to compete with upstarts like Netflix and Amazon.

Fox — which is widely expected to receive regulatory approval from the U.K. this week after initially reaching a deal with Sky in December 2016 — increased its offer to £14 per share on Wednesday morning, up from £10.75 per share. This values the deal at $32.5 billion.

The news puts the ball back in the court of Comcast, which had offered £12.50 per share for Sky.

Fox, which already owns a 39 percent stake of Sky, said it had secured the backing of the independent committee of Sky for the deal.

Takeover battle

The new Fox bid marks the latest salvo in an 18-month takeover battle for Sky. Disney has agreed a $71 billion takeover of Fox’s entertainment assets, and will own all of Sky if Fox wins its bid.

“We do have a tradition, do we not, of political neutrality in our broadcast media? It is a shame that people like Zuckerberg don’t agree with that but we do and my issue is that there is bound to be a seepage of tribalism coming into to Sky if Fox got it,” Former CBI head Digby Jones told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Wednesday.

Sky is seen as one of the media industry’s most coveted prizes for U.S. companies looking to expand their operations to Europe. In addition to selling broadband and mobile phone services, Sky is also a leader for pay-TV in Britain, as well as other regional markets including Germany and Italy.

"A clear statement of intent and underlines the strategic importance of owning Sky to both companies. The love triangle takes a new twist," Paolo Pescatore, an independent telecom and media analyst, told CNBC via email on Wednesday.

"There’s no way that Disney, nor 21st Century Fox want to let Sky go to Comcast. Therefore expect another round of counter bids. The price is heading in one direction. It’s a great time to be a Sky shareholder," he added.

Disclosure: Comcast is the owner of NBCUniversal, parent company of CNBC and CNBC.com.