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British government to announce Fox-Sky deal decision by Thursday

British government to announce Fox-Sky deal decision by Thursday
Sky is Britain’s top pay-TV company. (Daniel Leal-Olivas / AFP/Getty Images)

The United Kingdom government will give its final ruling on 21st Century Fox Inc.’s $15.5-billion bid for Sky Plc by Thursday, a decision set to trigger a bidding contest with Comcast Corp. for Britain’s top pay-TV company.

Jeremy Wright, who became culture secretary Monday as part of a shake-up by Prime Minister Theresa May, said he would stick to plans to announce a decision imminently. “I intend to keep to the timetable,” Wright said in a written statement to Parliament.

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Wright’s predecessor, Matt Hancock, was on the verge of clearing the Fox-Sky deal before being moved to run Britain’s health ministry. Fox is waiting for the government decision before upping its offer for Sky, as it aims to beat a rival bid from Comcast, according to people familiar with the matter. On a per-share basis, Comcast’s current offer tops Fox’s by 16%.

The tussle for Sky is part of a wider battle between Comcast and Walt Disney Co. for the bulk of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. Each is trying to add more movies and shows to take on streaming competitors Netflix Inc. and Amazon.com Inc.

Murdoch has agreed to sell Fox’s entertainment assets to Disney, including Fox’s 39% stake in Sky, though Comcast is considering making another counteroffer for the Fox portfolio.

Fox first bid in December 2016 to buy the portion of Sky that it doesn’t already own, but the deal has been held up over concerns that the tie-up would give Murdoch too much influence over Britain’s media. Hancock had said he was willing to let the takeover go ahead, provided Fox sold Sky’s 24-hour news channel to Disney.

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