In an effort to assist 21st Century Fox’s acquisition of Sky get past regulators, Disney has offered to buy Sky News and retain it regardless of whether their deal with Fox closes. As Variety reports, the move is intended to ease concerns regulators have about the Murdoch family’s control of Sky News. In a statement, Disney proposed the idea, saying “If the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport agrees, and Fox acquires Sky, Disney would buy Sky News and agree to sustain the operating capital of Sky News and maintain its editorial independence… The divestment of Sky News to Disney is separate from, and not conditional on, Disney’s acquisition of Fox.” Disney also guaranteed that it would fund Sky News at the same level for at least 10 years. This bit of deal-making comes as rival Comcast recently announced their own bid for Sky. It’s rumored that Comcast also tried to outbid Disney for the 21st Century Fox assets but the offer was declined due to regulatory concerns.
21st Century Fox also offered to separate Sky News into its own entity with its own Board of Directors as another alternate way to clear the path to the deal. In a statement, Fox said:
“We have worked diligently with the CMA (UK Regulators) throughout its extensive review. In fact, we believe that the enhanced firewall remedies we proposed to safeguard the editorial independence of Sky News addressed comprehensively and constructively the CMA’s provisional concerns. These enhanced remedies went above and beyond what Ofcom, the expert, independent regulator on UK broadcasting, had stated would mitigate concerns around media plurality.
We are aware that a group of politicians that is opposed to the transaction is seeking to influence the CMA and is making a number of unsupported and fanciful assertions. If the CMA were to accept at face value these assertions and be dissatisfied with enhanced remedies that are a direct and reasonable response to concerns it had raised with us, we believe that this would compromise the integrity of a system which is supposed to be objective, evidenced-based and grounded on the application of established legal principles.
We have now submitted a new, revised set of remedies should they be considered necessary by the CMA and ultimately by the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, “We remain committed to working with the CMA to find remedies that will ensure the continued editorial independence of Sky News. We will continue to work with the regulator, and then the Secretary of State at the appropriate time, and leave open the possibility to pursue all of our legal options if necessary.
Many point to Disney’s involvement in a deal as a sign that Disney would be willing to support Fox matching Comcast’s offer for the part of Sky that 21st Century Fox does not own. Disney CEO Bob Iger called Sky a “crown jewel” and would be a signature asset to Disney’s newly launched direct-to-consumer business.
ABC News already partners with Sky News on global stories. ESPN recently partnered with Sky Sports to broadcast a Formula 1 race. Even if Disney’s purchase of 21st Century Fox does not go through, Sky News could be a good asset to grow Disney’s European footprint while also bolstering ABC News.