Comcast and Verizon Are Interested in Fox's Film, TV Assets

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Comcast Said to Express Interest in Fox Assets

Comcast Corp. and Verizon Communications Inc. have looked into acquiring a big portion of 21st Century Fox Inc., swooping in after talks to sell film and television assets to Walt Disney Co. cooled, according to people familiar with the matter.

Comcast, the owner of TV networks such as NBC and the movie studio Universal Pictures, approached the Rupert Murdoch-controlled media group about the assets, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private information. Verizon, the biggest U.S. wireless carrier, has some interest in the same collection of holdings, two of the people said. Fox shares surged 5.2 percent in late trading after CNBC and the Wall Street Journal reported the news earlier.

Disney had sought a stake in European satellite carrier Sky Plc, the National Geographic, FX and Star India cable networks, and the 20th Century Fox film and TV studio, people familiar with the matter said earlier. Comcast would also be interested in Fox’s regional sports networks, one of the people said Thursday. Fox would be left with its assets including its cable news outlets and broadcast channel, including local stations.

A deal between Comcast and Fox would radically change the media landscape, consolidating some of the biggest entertainment properties in the world and putting two of the six major Hollywood studios under one roof. The rise of online competitors like Netflix and YouTube has slowed the growth of pay-TV, and Comcast, the biggest U.S. cable provider, has been adding film and TV assets to ensure it has a hand in both programming and distribution.

A deal with Fox would vault Verizon into the entertainment business, where top wireless rival AT&T Inc. has also been attempting to venture with the acquisition of Fox competitor Time Warner Inc. The AT&T transaction has been awaiting approval by the U.S. Justice Department, where antitrust officials are concerned about consolidation in the media industry -- worries that could also weigh on any potential Fox deal.

Fox is also awaiting approval in the U.K. to acquire full control of Sky, a deal that has been held up by regulators. Lachlan Murdoch, executive chairman of Fox, told shareholders at its annual meeting Wednesday that it expects the deal to close in the middle of 2018.

Fox could give Comcast, whose businesses are still heavily concentrated in the U.S., entree into many more international markets. Star operates 58 channels in eight languages in India, while Sky is one of the largest pay-TV companies in Europe. Comcast could also acquire Fox’s stake in the Hulu online TV service, doubling its ownership to 60 percent. Disney and Time Warner Inc. also own part of Hulu.

Read a Gadfly take on the flirtation between Fox and Disney

Fox’s studio has a large library of movies and TV shows, from “The Simpsons,” to “Modern Family” to “Avatar,” and also produces films with characters from Disney’s Marvel Entertainment, such as the X-Men. The studio also makes television shows for other networks, such as “This Is Us,” one of the most popular shows on Comcast’s NBC.

Since acquiring NBCUniversal in 2011, Comcast has continued to compile entertainment assets. It acquired DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. in 2016 for $3.8 billion and bought a minority stake in Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Partners earlier this year. Universal has top franchises such as “The Fast and the Furious,” Illumination Entertainment animated films such as “Minions” and Jason Blum’s horror movies, like the hit “Get Out.”

— With assistance by Ed Hammond, and Aaron Kirchfeld

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