The nearly two-year battle for the hand of U.K. satellite giant Sky plc will be determined this weekend, as U.K. regulators said they will initiate a blind auction for the company Sept. 21 in which both suitors -- Comcast and 21st Century Fox -- will be required to submit sealed bids.
The auction will end what has been a 21-month battle for Sky, started when Fox, which already owns a 39% interest in Sky, made a $14.8 billion proposal for the rest of the company in December 2016. After a series of regulatory setbacks delayed that deal, Comcast joined the fray in February 2018, making an unsolicited offer for the satellite company valued at about $31 billion at the time.
What followed was a series of higher bids from both parties. Fox raised its bid to $32.5 billion in July, which Comcast immediately bested with a $34 billion offer. Later, Fox said it would ease shareholder restrictions on its bid, requiring only 11% of shareholders to approve the deal for it to pass.
Since then, the deal has been in a kind of regulatory limbo, with neither side saying much about their progress. On Thursday (Sept. 20) the U.K. Takeover Panel, the regulatory agency in charge of policing large mergers in Britain, said it would exercise its right to resolve the matter through a blind auction.
The auction will begin at 5 p.m. London time on Sept. 21 and end on the evening of Sept. 22, consisting of a maximum of three rounds, the Takeover Panel said in a statement.
According to the agency, only the offeror with the lowest offer at the start of the auction will be allowed to make an increased bid, with the remaining bidder able to raise its price in the second round. If the auction hasn’t concluded by the end of the second round, a third round will be held with both bidders allowed to make sealed bids.
Comcast has said that the Sky deal is an important component of its strategy, adding that the European satellite giant would be used as a growth platform. A win here may also help salve the wounds Comcast endured in its abandoned pursuit of Fox content assets that were ultimately won by Disney earlier this year.