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Disney renews interest in buying much of Rupert Murdoch's Fox empire

Walt Disney Co. has renewed talks to buy 21st Century Fox’s movie studio, television production arm, some cable channels and international television operations, the Wall Street Journal reported Saturday.

Earlier this fall, Disney executives approached Rupert Murdoch and his sons about buying key Fox entertainment assets, but negotiations stalled when the two sides could not agree on price, The Times has previously reported.

Disney has been interested in Fox’s entertainment properties as the Burbank entertainment giant gears up to launch two video streaming services in the next two years to compete against Netflix. Having access to thousands of Fox movie and television titles, including “The Simpsons,” “Avatar,” and “Ice Age,” would give Disney a deeper library to offer streaming service subscribers.

Disney is not interested in buying Fox News Channel, the Fox broadcast network or the Fox television stations. Disney has its own broadcast network, ABC.

A Fox spokesman declined to comment. A Disney representative was not immediately available for comment Saturday.

Disney’s reported renewal of talks with Fox came after Comcast Corp. and Sony Pictures Entertainment expressed interest in the Fox assets. Comcast also has been separately engaged in the talks, according to another person with knowledge of the matter.

Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal, is keenly interested in Fox’s regional sports networks and Fox’s 39% stake in European pay-TV giant Sky as well as Fox’s pay-TV service in India. Among the American media companies, Fox has been most aggressive about expanding internationally.

Analysts have said that Fox is most likely interested in a deal that would give it substantial stock holdings in Disney. The Murdoch family controls Fox with 39% of the company’s voting shares. James Murdoch, 44, Fox’s chief executive and Rupert Murdoch’s youngest son, would like to have a role in the company that ultimately buys Fox assets, according to a recent Bloomberg report.

The Journal, which is owned by another company controlled by Rupert Murdoch, said the mogul and his family are expected to make a decision by year’s end on whether to sell such a huge part of their entertainment empire.

Should Disney prevail, purchasing Fox’s assets would represent the boldest acquisition yet for Disney Chairman and Chief Executive Robert Iger.

Iger has been methodically transforming Disney, through a series of acquisitions, into a more formidable giant able to withstand the dramatic shifts that are roiling the entertainment industry.

Since Iger took the helm in 2005, Disney has purchased Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel Entertainment and Lucasfilm. In August, Disney announced a $1-billion deal to take control of BamTech, which built one of the most successful streaming service platforms in the industry.

Media companies have been racing to bulk up in an effort to compete against technology giants Google Inc. and Facebook, which control most of the online advertising, and Netflix and Amazon.com, which have moved aggressively into movie and TV production. Mainstream movies and television shows are drawing smaller audiences, in part, because of the proliferation of online entertainment options.

meg.james@latimes.com

@MegJamesLAT

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