Now that AT&T has won its anti-trust trial and has been cleared to acquire Time Warner, Comcast leaders see no hurdles in the way of launching their own bid to acquire the 21st Century Fox assets that Disney is already working to buy. Disney and 21st Century Fox announced they had agreed to a $52.4 billion deal in December. Both sides are awaiting the approval of shareholders. Comcast will reportedly offer $60 billion for the same assets.
The concern had been anti-trust laws that Comcast was concerned might prohibit a cable operator from owning so many cable and broadcast networks, but the judge in the AT&T/Time Warner case just issued a 172 page ruling saying that because streaming services have reshaped the TV marketplace, owning channels and a cable service no longer represents a monopoly.
From a sports media standpoint, this would put the 22 Fox Sports regional networks in play. They were a key part of what Disney was hoping to acquire to create a new revenue stream for ESPN. A report from Variety explains how those networks could draw the eye of regulators if Comcast were to get involved in the bidding.
Having Comcast absorb Fox’s 22 regional sports networks could be a bigger red flag for regulators. Comcast is prepared to divest some of them or let them go entirely. Comcast also owns nine RSNs. Comcast will note that two-thirds of Fox’s channels are outside Comcast’s cable footprint — which means the company will have to negotiate carriage deals with rival MVPDs just like any other content owner.
It is not sports that are driving the deal for either Disney or Comcast. Both want Fox’s extensive film and TV library and majority control of Hulu, which the three companies currently operate together. Disney already has plans to launch their own streaming service complete with at least one exclusive and original Star Wars series early next year.