Karen Bradley "minded to" refer Fox's £11.7bn Sky takeover to competition authorities over public interest concerns

Emma Haslett
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Fox's offer for Sky values it at £18.5bn (Source: Getty)

City analysts have suggested 21st Century Fox may be forced to rescind some of its powers over Sky News if its £11.7bn takeover of Sky is to move forward.

The warnings came after culture secretary Karen Bradley said she is "minded to" refer the deal, to acquire the 61 per cent of the broadcaster Fox does not already own, to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) over concerns about diversity in the UK's media sector.

Murdoch influence

The deal has already been slowed by concerns over the influence of Rupert Murdoch, who owns Fox, as well as UK newspapers including The Times and The Sun.

In her statement to the House of Commons, Bradley said although her concerns over Fox's commitment to broadcasting standards had been allayed, a report by Ofcom had raised questions around the risk of increased influence by Murdoch over the UK news agenda and the political process.

A sell-off or spin-out of Sky News as part of the deal has been hinted at in the past, but the Ofcom report said such a move could "lead to the risk of the scale of Sky News decreasing over time", meaning it would "present risks to plurality equal to or greater than those presented by the transaction itself."

However, City analysts suggested Fox may move to limit its influence over Sky News as a sop to the CMA.

"It's not a big part of the business," said Ian Whittaker, media analyst at Liberum. "It's not going to be profit generating for Sky.

"If the price of the deal is Sky having to dispose of Sky News, that would be a deal they're willing to take. It's quite a neat way to square the circle."

Bruce Kilpatrick, head of competition at Addleshaw Goddard, suggested Sky News could be legally separated, in the same way Ofcom agreed with BT and Openreach, its broadband subsidiary, which now has a separate board to its parent company.

"It’s a model Ofcom spent a lot of time agreeing with BT, also in the face of significant political pressure," he said.

"Fox and its advisers will be aware of that and seeing if they can put a more arms-length structure in place which would be enough to avoid a six-month probe."

"There are a lot of solutions as to how it could be spun into a separate subsidiary," added Roddy Davidson, of Shore Capital Markets. "I don't think [Fox is] acquiring Sky to get hold of Sky News."

Sky and Fox did not comment.

Controversial deal

Fox resurrected its plans to buy Sky in December, after a previous approach failed in 2011 amid the phone-hacking scandal, which threw its sister company, News International (now News UK), into chaos.

Under Fox's offer, put forward in February, it will acquire the 61 per cent stake in Sky it does not already own for £10.75 per share. The deal values the broadcaster at £18.5bn.

When it tabled the deal in March, the offer represented a 36 per cent premium to Sky's share price. Today shares finished at 956.5p, 3.3 per cent higher.

On Tuesday this week Irish regulators gave the deal the thumbs-up, following similarly encouraging receptions by Austria, Germany and Italy.

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