Comcast and Fox take $34 billion battle for Britain’s Sky to the wire

LONDON (Reuters) – Comcast (CMCSA.O) and Twenty-First Century Fox  face a quick-fire auction for British broadcaster Sky on Saturday after neither side backed down in a drawn-out $34 billion battle.

A deadline for U.S. cable giant Comcast and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox to declare that their all-cash offers for Sky would not be increased passed on Friday without a move by either side, triggering a rare auction run by Britain’s Takeover Panel.

Fox, which has the backing of partner Walt Disney (DIS.N), and Comcast are vying for control of Sky to bolster their businesses in the face of rapid growth of streaming services such as Netflix (NFLX.O), which are transforming the media industry.

Saturday’s auction of pay-TV group Sky will last a maximum of three rounds and any bids will be made in private by either telephone or email, a source with knowledge of the process said.

The Takeover Panel then expects to announce the offer prices that the bidders have submitted on Saturday evening.

Sky’s independent directors, who are so far recommending that investors back Comcast’s 14.75 pounds a share offer, which values the broadcaster at 25.9 billion pounds ($34 billion), are expected to meet immediately to decide which offer to back.

Comcast and Fox could end up making the same bids.

Shares in the London-listed pay-TV business closed up 0.3 percent at 15.85 pounds on Friday ahead of what is the climax to two lengthy and interlocking takeover fights for both Fox and Sky that are set to reshape the entertainment sector.

“This will most likely mark the end of a process that we have managed for almost two years,” Sky Chief Executive Jeremy Darroch wrote in a memo to staff on Thursday.