Comcast is not taking the Disney-21st Century Fox merger lying down.
On Monday, Reuters reported that Comcast (cmcsa) is getting its ducks in a row to scupper the deal, one way or another. Disney’s $52 billion all-stock buy out of Fox’s film, television, and international businesses was announced in December 2017 — one month after Comcast made a higher all-stock offer to buy the same assets. Disney (dis) and Fox alluded to regulatory complexities associated with a potential Comcast buy-out in explaining why Disney’s lower offer was accepted.
For both Comcast and Disney, acquiring the Fox (fox) assets would be a huge boon to the scale, reach, and branding of their business, equipping either company to better compete with increasingly consolidated rivals. The Fox deal includes access to markets in Europe and Asia that both Disney and Comcast covet, not to mention blockbuster franchises including X-Men, Avatar, Fantastic Four, Deadpool, and The Simpsons. Crucially, Fox’s 30% stake in Hulu is part of the deal. Comcast and Disney both also own 30% of the Netflix-competitor streaming service, so the buy-out would give either one a controlling interest.
Here’s how Comcast could still eke out a win.
1. Comcast could make a counter offer
Three people familiar with the matter told Reuters that Comcast was in conversations with investment banks to assemble as much as $60 billion in cash to make a counter-offer for all the Fox assets Disney is in the process of buying. Comcast used Disney and Fox’s regulatory filings to hone its offer after its initial bid was rejected, so this one is sure to pack a punch if it comes to fruition.
But whether Comcast will make this offer is dependent on the outcome of the AT&T-Time Warner antitrust trial. If that merger is allowed to go ahead, it will be a sign that Comcast is less likely to face regulatory barriers to buying Fox.
2. Comcast could buy Sky
Sky is a European pay TV operator. Fox’s 39% stake in the company is one of the reasons the buy-out is so attractive to both Disney and Comcast. But Comcast already has a bid in to buy the entirety of Sky, which would effectively spoil the pot for Disney. Comcast’s $31 billion bid is currently being considered by EU regulators. On June 14 they’ll decide whether to approve it or send it to the courts, for a potentially months-long process.
3. Comcast could play hardball with Hulu
If all else fails, Comcast could make it difficult for Disney to acquire Fox’s 30% stake in Hulu. This would be a risky move though, as Disney has already toyed with the idea of starting a rival streaming service, which could take viewers away from the Comcast property.