In Digital Age, Comcast is Swinging for the M&A Fence

NEWS ANALYSIS — Comcast still has that Disney itch.

The media giant reportedly is securing upwards of $60 billion in cash financing in an effort to outbid The Walt Disney Co.’s current $52 billion stock offer for 2oth Century Fox Film Corp., which includes movies, TV shows and foreign assets.

The merger & acquisition bid would only be submitted should AT&T’s $84.5 billion acquisition of Time Warner be approved by a federal judge, according to Reuterswhich cited sources familiar with the proceedings. That deal is being opposed in court by the Department of Justice on alleged antitrust issues.

Comcast previously submitted a $30 billion offer for Fox-controlled Sky Plc in the United Kingdom — a bid that trumps Fox’s separate offer for remaining interest in the satellite TV operator, whose business includes operations in Italy and Germany.

Comcast’s legacy cable business is under increasing threat (lost 96,000 video subs in Q1) from over-the-top video behemoths Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, whose global platforms continue to migrate millions of consumers from traditional pay-TV to streaming video.

One way to mitigate the damage is through maximizing economies of scale in content creation and distribution. Comcast assets include NBC Universal, which includes Universal Pictures, and DreamWorks Animation, among many others.

Fox, which is controlled by Rupert Murdoch & his sons, controls the rights to franchises such as “X-Men,” “Fantastic Four,” “Deadpool” and “Avatar,” in addition to “The Simpsons” on TV.

In addition, Comcast, Fox and Disney each own 30% stakes in Hulu (Time Warner owns 10%). Should Comcast prevail acquiring Fox, it would have controlling interest in Hulu, which just topped 20 million subscribers.

Fox subsidiaries are major content suppliers to Hulu, although the platform’s breakout hit, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” is produced by MGM. With Disney eyeing its own branded SVOD service in 2019, controlling interest in Hulu and Hulu Live online TV platform is a pre-requisite.

“We believe this is simply not possible without Comcast’s consent and we see no reason why Comcast would want to enable Disney to have a more successful streaming service that hampers the legacy bundle that is vital to Comcast,” BTIG Research analyst Richard Greenfield wrote in a note last year.

Indeed, Comcast’s rivalry with Disney dates back to 2004 when it made a hostile $54 billion bid for Disney after then-CEO Michael Eisner refused to entertain merger discussions. Comcast later withdrew the offer.

 

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