Comcast challenges Disney for control of 21st Century Fox assets

The Twenty-First Century Fox sign outside of the News Corporation headquarters building in New York. Comcast says it’s considering making an offer to buy Twenty-First Century Fox, which would put it in a head-to-head bidding fight with Disney. (AP)
Updated 23 May 2018

Comcast challenges Disney for control of 21st Century Fox assets

NEW YORK: A full-fledged bidding war for key assets of Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox erupted Wednesday as media and cable giant Comcast announced it plans an all-cash bid that would top an offer already on the table from Walt Disney Co.
Comcast said it is in “advanced stages of preparing” the offer for the television and entertainment assets Fox agreed to sell to Disney in a $52.4 billion stock deal announced in December.
Comcast, which owns the NBCUniversal media-entertainment group and is the largest US cable operator, said it was prepared to pay more than Disney for the operations, which don’t include Murdoch’s Fox News Channel, Fox Broadcasting and major sports channels.
“Any offer for Fox would be all-cash and at a premium to the value of the current all-share offer from Disney,” the Comcast statement said.
“The structure and terms of any offer by Comcast, including with respect to both the spin-off of ‘New Fox’ and the regulatory risk provisions and the related termination fee, would be at least as favorable to Fox shareholders as the Disney offer.”
Either deal would dramatically reshape the media-entertainment landscape and scale back the Fox empire created by the 87-year-old Murdoch.
Murdoch, who with his family controls 21st Century Fox, agreed to the tie-up in December that would give Disney the famed Fox studios in Hollywood along with Fox’s international TV operations and US cable entertainment and regional sports channels.
Included in the sale is Fox’s 39 percent stake in the British pay TV operator Sky. Murdoch has sought full control of Sky but has faced opposition from regulators in Britain.
Separately, Comcast last month made an offer of $30.7 billion in cash for Sky, in a move welcomed by the British firm.
Some reports said Murdoch had previously rejected an offer from Comcast. But the controlling family and shareholders would face pressure if the new offer is better than the one from Disney.
Fox had no immediate comment on the Comcast statement. But in its most recent earnings call, co-executive chairman Lachlan Murdoch said that “we are committed to our agreement with Disney” and that board members “are aware of their fiduciary duties on behalf of all shareholders.”
Analyst Richard Greenfield at BTIG Research predicted last month that Comcast would offer “a 25 percent premium to Disney’s bid” in an effort to win the deal.
“While a Comcast acquisition of Fox is surely challenging financially, Comcast has never shied away from a challenge,” the analyst wrote.
Either deal could face intense scrutiny from antitrust regulators because of the implications for the television and cinema sectors.
A tie-up with Disney would create giant a with up to 40 percent of US box office revenues, according to some estimates.
Comcast’s Universal studios is smaller than Disney’s but could vault to the top of the market by adding 20th Century Fox.
Either Comcast or Disney would gain global stature in the TV sector with Sky, the pan-European broadcaster with operations in Britain, Ireland, Germany, Austria and Spain. Comcast operates the NBC broadcast network while Disney owns ABC, and both have multiple cable channels.
The move comes with Murdoch gradually withdrawing from the empire he built, giving more authority to his sons Lachlan and James.
The group announced last week that Lachlan Murdoch would assume the role of chairman and chief executive at the “new” Fox, which would be tightly focused around the Fox News Channel and sports cable channels.
The consolidation in the sector comes with traditional operators facing pressure from online and tech platforms such as Netflix and Amazon, which are shaking up the model of pay TV deliver as well as the studio system for content production.
Another pending deal that would join telecom and broadband giant AT&T with media-entertainment group Time Warner is being challenged by the US Justice Department in an antitrust suit. A judge is expected to rule in that case next month.


Virus pressure tests Saudi Arabia reforms as Aramco has Forbes debut

Updated 28 May 2020

Virus pressure tests Saudi Arabia reforms as Aramco has Forbes debut

  • ‘In terms of profits, the Saudi companies have done well. We will see more companies rising in the next few years

RIYADH: Saudi companies such as oil giant Aramco are displaying resilience in the face of the coronavirus pandemic because of reforms introduced before its arrival, say analysts.

The world’s largest oil company has become emblematic of wider corporate reforms triggered by the Saudi Vision 2030 blueprint for social and economic change.

Saudi Aramco this month appeared in the top five of the Forbes Global 2000 list, which ranks the world’s 2000 largest companies.

It comes as the world’s most profitable company reported profits on $88.2 billion last year.

This year’s rankings arrive amid a global pandemic which has devastated the earnings of some companies, improved the position of others and tested the resilience of all.

It has also shone a spotlight on the ability of the the Kingdom’s top companies to withstand the twin shock of the COVID-19 lockdown and the collapse of oil prices.

Saudi Aramco debuted on the prestigious Forbes list after completing the world’s largest initial public offering last year.

The rankings are based on a combination of sales, profits, market capitalization and assets. Three of the top five companies on the list are from China, including Industrial and Commercial Bank of China in the top spot for the eighth straight year with more than $4.3 trillion in assets.

Forbes noted that many of the companies on its list have come through a particularly difficult first quarter as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, or what it describes as “The Great Cessation.”

“Many companies and organizations have faced difficulties in managing and mitigating the impact of COVID-19 crisis. However, there are some companies that have prepared well and put in action plans to avoid this crisis with the least damage,” said Fahad Alfaifi, a Saudi-based strategy and business planning consultant.

The pandemic has come at a time of historic change in the Kingdom’s corporate landscape driven by economic reforms which form a major part of the Vision 2030 agenda. This aims to reduce the country’s reliance on oil revenues and stimulate investment in sectors of the economy that create new jobs for a youthful population.

This backdrop has meant many companies in the Kingdom were already changing the way they did business before the arrival of the pandemic and the collapse of oil prices created new challenges.

Last year’s annual Global Competitiveness Report, issued by the World Economic Forum, placed the Kingdom third among G20 counties and 11th globally

in terms of IT governance which rates a country’s ability to adapt digital technologies such as e-commerce and financial technology.

Such technology skills are becoming increasingly important for economies as they to re-calibrate and adapt to the post-pandemic world.

Nasser Al-Qarawee, the director of the Saudi Study and Research Center, attributed the success of some Saudi companies to the great achievements made by the private sector lately and predicted that more Saudi companies would eventually join Aramco on the Forbes list.

“The national economy has seen enormous improvements and development in terms of laws and legislation that have helped reduce restrictions and bureaucracy, while the government has worked at the same time on reducing dependency on oil. Vision 2030 will further cement the Kingdom’s strong presence globally and make it have a larger influence on global decisions, not only economically but also politically.”

Tawfiq Al-Swailem, CEO of the Gulf Bureau for Research and Economic Consultations, said that many Saudi companies would emerge from the pandemic in a strong position.

“In terms of profits, the Saudi companies have done well, although the entire world is living through a state of ferocious economic war,” he said. “We will see more Saudi companies rising in the next few years.”