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Comcast Prepares All-Cash Bid to Acquire 21st Century Fox for $52 Billion

Phillip Dampier May 8, 2018 Comcast/Xfinity, Competition, Reuters 1 Comment

(Reuters) – U.S. cable operator Comcast Corp is asking investment banks to increase a bridge financing facility by as much as $60 billion so it can make an all-cash offer for the media assets that Twenty-First Century Fox Inc has agreed to sell to Walt Disney Co for $52 billion, three people familiar with the matter said on Monday.

Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts only plans to proceed with the bid if a federal judge allows AT&T Inc’s planned $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner Inc to proceed, the sources said. The U.S. Department of Justice has opposed the AT&T-Time Warner deal over antitrust concerns, and a decision from U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon is expected in June.

Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger clinched an all-stock deal with Fox Executive Chairman Rupert Murdoch in December to acquire Fox’s film, television and international businesses, giving the world’s largest entertainment company an arsenal of shows and movies to combat growing digital rivals Netflix Inc and Amazon.com Inc.

Comcast, owner of NBC and Universal Pictures, has also made a 22 billion pound ($30 billion) offer to acquire the 61 percent stake in European pay-TV group Sky Plc that Fox does not already own. In doing so, it topped an earlier offer for the entirety of Sky by Fox.

Last November, Comcast offered to acquire most of Fox’s assets in an all-stock deal valued at $34.41 per share, or $64 billion, a regulatory filing showed last month. Like Disney, Comcast sought to buy Fox’s entertainment networks, movie studios, television production and international assets, the filing shows.

Fox ended up announcing an all-stock deal with Disney for $29.54 per share. In the regulatory filing, Disney and Fox cited regulatory hurdles as reasons to reject Comcast’s bid, even though they did not reference it by name.

The exact value of Comcast’s new bid for the Fox assets is not yet clear, although the $60 billion in new financing indicates it is seeking significant firepower to outbid Disney. Comcast already has a $30 billion bridge loan to finance its Sky offer.

The sources asked not to be identified because the matter is confidential. Comcast, Fox and Disney declined to comment.

Fox shares rose 5.13 percent to $39.99 on the news in after-hours trading in New York on Monday. Comcast shares were down 1.5 percent to $31.90, while Disney shares were down 0.5 percent to $102.00.

Murdoch, who owns close to a 17 percent stake in Fox and holds about 40 percent of the voting power, prefers to be paid in stock rather than cash for the Fox assets, because this makes the transaction non-taxable for shareholders, sources have said. It is not clear how receptive he would be to an all-cash offer.

Last month’s regulatory filing also showed that Fox viewed Disney’s stock as more valuable than Comcast’s, based on historic prices, and felt that a deal between Disney and Fox would generate greater long-term value. The Roberts family controls Comcast through a dual-class stock structure.

Comcast’s stock has dropped since then, from around $38 to about $32 now, giving the company a market capitalization of $149 billion.

Disney has committed to share buybacks as a way of returning cash to Fox shareholders. As a result, Comcast sees an opening in being disruptive to the deal by making an all-cash bid, according to the sources.

In its deal with Disney, Fox agreed to separate the Fox Broadcasting network and stations, Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, its sports channels FS1, FS2 and the Big Ten Network, into a newly listed company that it will spin off to its shareholders.

Reporting by: Greg Roumeliotis and Liana B. Baker in New York; Additional reporting by Jessica Toonkel in New York; Editing by Tiffany Wu and Lisa Shumaker

FCC Repeals Net Neutrality 3-2 in Party Line Vote

Pai

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted along party lines on Thursday to repeal landmark 2015 rules aimed at ensuring a free and open internet, setting up a court fight over a move that could recast the digital landscape.

The approval of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s proposal marked a victory for internet service providers like AT&T Inc, Comcast Corp and Verizon Communications Inc and hands them power over what content consumers can access.

Democrats, Hollywood and companies like Google parent Alphabet Inc and Facebook Inc had urged Pai, a Republican appointed by U.S. President Donald Trump, to keep the Obama-era rules barring service providers from blocking, slowing access to or charging more for certain content.

Consumer advocates and trade groups representing content providers have planned a legal challenge aimed at preserving those rules.

The meeting was evacuated before the vote for about 10 minutes due to an unspecified security threat, and resumed after law enforcement with sniffer dogs checked the room.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, said in a statement he will lead a multi-state lawsuit to challenge the reversal. He called the vote “a blow to New York consumers, and to everyone who cares about a free and open internet.”

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat, said in the run-up to the vote that Republicans were “handing the keys to the Internet” to a “handful of multi-billion dollar corporations.”

Shares of Alphabet, Apple Inc and Microsoft Corp moved lower after the vote.

Schneiderman

Pai has argued that the 2015 rules were heavy handed and stifled competition and innovation among service providers.

“The internet wasn’t broken in 2015. We weren’t living in a digital dystopia. To the contrary, the internet is perhaps the one thing in American society we can all agree has been a stunning success,” he said on Thursday.

The FCC voted 3-2 to repeal the rules.

NEXT STEPS

Consumers are unlikely to see immediate changes resulting from the rule change, but smaller startups worry the lack of restrictions could drive up costs or lead to their content being blocked.

Internet service providers say they will not block or throttle legal content but that they may engage in paid prioritization. They say consumers will see no change and argue that the largely unregulated internet functioned well in the two decades before the 2015 order.

Democrats have pointed to polls showing a repeal is deeply unpopular and say they will prevail in protecting the rules, either in the courts or in U.S. Congress.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, said in a written dissent released on Thursday that the decision grants internet providers “extraordinary new power” from the FCC.

“They have the technical ability and business incentive to discriminate and manipulate your internet traffic. And now this agency gives them the legal green light to go ahead,” she said.

Several state attorneys general said before the vote they would work to oppose the ruling, citing problems with comments made to the FCC during the public comment period. Other critics have said they will consider challenging what they consider to be weaker enforcement.

Net neutrality supporters had rallied in front of the FCC building in Washington before the vote.

The 2015 rules were intended to give consumers equal access to web content and prevent broadband providers from favoring their own content. Pai proposes allowing those practices as long as they are disclosed.

Michael Powell, a former FCC chairman who heads a trade group representing major cable companies and broadcasters, told reporters earlier this week that internet providers would not block content because it would not make economic sense.

“They make a lot of money on an open internet,” Powell said, adding it is “much more profitable” than a closed system. “This is not a pledge of good-heartedness, it’s a pledge in the shareholders’ interest.”

The chief executive of USTelecom, a lobbying group that represents internet providers and the broadband industry, said in a statement the industry has “renewed confidence to make the investments required to strengthen the nation’s networks and close the digital divide, especially in rural communities.”

A University of Maryland poll released this week found that more than 80 percent of respondents opposed a repeal. The survey of 1,077 registered voters was conducted online by the Program for Public Consultation at the University of Maryland from Dec. 6-8.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Writing by Chris Sanders; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Meredith Mazzilli

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Announces Plan to Eliminate Net Neutrality

Pai

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The head of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission unveiled plans on Tuesday to repeal landmark 2015 rules that prohibited internet service providers from impeding consumer access to web content in a move that promises to recast the digital landscape.

FCC chief Ajit Pai, a Republican appointed by President Donald Trump in January, said the commission will vote at a Dec. 14 meeting on his plan to rescind the so-called Net Neutrality rules championed by Democratic former President Barack Obama that treated internet service providers like public utilities.

The rules barred broadband providers from blocking or slowing down access to content or charging consumers more for certain content. They were intended to ensure a free and open internet, give consumers equal access to web content and prevent broadband service providers from favoring their own content.

The action marks a victory for big internet service providers such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon Communications that opposed the rules and gives them sweeping powers to decide what web content consumers can get and at what price.

It represents a setback for Google parent Alphabet Inc and Facebook, which had urged Pai not to rescind the rules.

With three Republican and two Democratic commissioners, the move is all but certain to be approved. Trump, a Republican, expressed his opposition to Net Neutrality in 2014 before the regulations were even implemented, calling it a “power grab” by Obama.

Pai said his proposal would prevent state and local governments from creating their own Net Neutrality rules because internet service is “inherently an interstate service.” The preemption is most likely to handcuff Democratic-governed states and localities that could have considered their own plans to protect consumers’ equal access to internet content.

“The FCC will no longer be in the business of micromanaging business models and preemptively prohibiting services and applications and products that could be pro-competitive,” Pai said in an interview, adding that the Obama administration had sought to pick winners and losers and exercised “heavy-handed” regulation of the internet.

“We should simply set rules of the road that let companies of all kinds in every sector compete and let consumers decide who wins and loses,” Pai added.

Tom Wheeler, who headed the FCC under Obama and advocated for the Net Neutrality rules, called the planned repeal “a shameful sham and sellout. Even for this FCC and its leadership, this proposal raises hypocrisy to new heights.”

AT&T, Comcast and Verizon have said that repealing the rules could lead to billions of dollars in additional broadband investment and eliminate the possibility that a future presidential administration could regulate internet pricing.

‘HEAVY COSTS’

Pelosi: FCC move will hurt consumers and chill competition.

Verizon said it believed the FCC “will reinstate a framework that protects consumers’ access to the open internet, without forcing them to bear the heavy costs from unnecessary regulation.”

The Internet Association, representing major technology firms including Alphabet and Facebook, said Pai’s proposal “represents the end of Net Neutrality as we know it and defies the will of millions of Americans. This proposal undoes nearly two decades of bipartisan agreement on baseline Net Neutrality principles that protect Americans’ ability to access the entire internet.”

Pai’s proposal would require internet service providers to disclose whether they allow blocking or slowing down of consumer web access or permit so-called internet fast lanes to facilitate a practice called paid prioritization of charging for certain content. Such disclosure will make it easier for another agency, the Federal Trade Commission, to act against internet service providers that fail to disclose such conduct to consumers, Pai said.

A U.S. appeals court last year upheld the legality of the Net Neutrality regulations, which were challenged in a lawsuit led by telecommunications industry trade association US Telecom.

The group praised Pai’s decision to remove “antiquated, restrictive regulations” to “pave the way for broadband network investment, expansion and upgrades.”

The FCC’s repeal is certain to draw a legal challenge from advocates of Net Neutrality.

Nancy Pelosi, the top U.S. House of Representatives Democrat, said the FCC move would hurt consumers and chill competition, saying the agency “has launched an all-out assault on the entrepreneurship, innovation and competition at the heart of the internet.”

Republican Senator John Thune said Pai’s plan was an improvement over the Obama rules but that “the only way to create long-term certainty for the internet ecosystem is for Congress to pass a bipartisan law.”

The planned repeal represents the latest example of a legacy achievement of Obama being erased since Trump took office in January. Trump has abandoned international trade deals, the landmark Paris climate accord and environmental protections, taken aim at the Iran nuclear accord and closer relations with Cuba, and sought repeal Obama’s signature healthcare law.

Pai, who has moved quickly to undo numerous regulatory actions since becoming FCC chairman, is pushing a broad deregulatory agenda. Pai said he had not shared his plans on the rollback with the White House in advance or been directed to undo Net Neutrality by White House officials.

The FCC under Obama regulated internet service providers like public utilities under a section of federal law that gave the agency sweeping oversight over the conduct of these companies.

Language in the new proposal would give the FCC significantly less authority to oversee the web. The FCC granted initial approval to Pai’s plan in May, but had left open many key questions including whether to retain any legal requirements limiting internet providers conduct.

His plan also would eliminate the “internet conduct standard,” which gave the FCC far-reaching discretion to prohibit internet service provider practices deemed to violate a list of factors and sought to address future discriminatory conduct.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Will Dunham

AT&T – Time Warner Merger Sails Into Rough Waters Over CNN

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. antitrust regulators believe that AT&T Inc’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner Inc would raise costs for rival entertainment distributors and stifle innovation, a Department of Justice official told Reuters on Thursday.

Allaying those concerns is the rationale for the Justice Department’s demand that AT&T sell assets in order for the deal to be approved, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Justice Department wants AT&T to sell its DirecTV unit or sell Time Warner’s Turner Broadcasting unit, which includes news company CNN, sources told Reuters on Wednesday.

AT&T has signaled it would not agree to sell DirecTV, which it acquired for $49 billion in 2015, leaving CNN and other cable TV assets as the main sticking point in negotiations between the Justice Department and AT&T.

The antitrust regulator is worried the combined company could make it harder for rivals to deliver content to consumers using new technologies, the official said. AT&T has said it wants to disrupt “entrenched pay TV models.”

The Justice Department’s desire for asset sales has raised concerns about political influence on the $85.4 billion deal, given U.S. President Donald Trump’s frequent criticism of CNN. As a candidate, Trump vowed to block the deal shortly after it was announced in October 2016, but has not addressed the issue publicly as president.

The head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, Makan Delrahim, said in a statement late on Thursday that he has “never been instructed by the White House” on the AT&T deal.

Raj Shah, a White House spokesman, said in a separate statement that Trump “did not speak with the Attorney General about this matter, and no White House official was authorized speak with the Department of Justice on this matter.”

AT&T chief executive Randall Stephenson defended the merger at a New York City media conference on Thursday, and said he did not want to sell CNN.

The company has opposed divesting assets and has told the government it is willing to fight in court to win approval, sources said on Wednesday.

The deal is opposed by an array of rivals and consumer groups worried that it would give the combined company too much power. Opponents are pushing for conditions that would limit AT&T’s ability to charge media rivals higher prices to carry Time Warner content.

Shares of Time Warner were down slightly in afternoon trading at $88.35. AT&T shares rose 2 percent to $34.09.

Discovery Builds Leveraging Power in Scripps Networks Acquisition

Phillip Dampier July 31, 2017 Competition, Consumer News, Online Video, Reuters No Comments

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Discovery Communications Inc is acquiring Scripps Networks Interactive Inc for $11.9 billion in a deal expected to boost the company’s negotiating leverage as it seeks new audiences.

The acquisition, announced on Monday, brings together Scripps’ largely female-focused lifestyle channels such as HGTV, Travel Channel and Food Network with Discovery’s Animal Planet and Discovery Channel, whose viewers are primarily male.

Despite expectations of $350 million in total cost synergies, many analysts questioned how the combined company would compete long term as viewers cut cords to cable providers and as advertising and ratings decline.

Discovery shares ended regular trading down 8.2 percent at $24.60 while those of Scripps finished up 0.6 percent at $87.41.

Discovery is paying 70 percent cash and 30 percent stock for Scripps. The total price of the deal is $14.6 billion including debt.

“While we believe the two companies are likely better positioned together, rather than apart, the longer-term issues facing the industry still remain,” wrote John Janedis, an analyst at Jefferies, in a note on Monday.

Both Discovery and Scripps reported quarterly earnings on Monday that reflected the challenges facing U.S. media companies. Scripps missed its second quarter ad guidance and lowered its full-year estimates, and Discovery reported flat advertising and lower affiliate revenue.

U.S. television networks and cable providers are under pressure as more viewers watch shows and movies on phones and tablets. There is also increased competition for viewers from streaming services such as Netflix Inc and Amazon.com Inc.

Five of the largest U.S. pay TV providers posted subscriber losses during the second quarter.

The combined company’s larger programming slate might give it an advantage in negotiations for inclusion in skinny bundles, or economy-priced cable packages that offer fewer channels than a standard contract.

After the merger, the company will offer 300,000 hours of content and capture about a 20 percent share of ad-supported cable audiences in the United States, Discovery said on an analyst call Monday morning.

“The transaction supports and accelerates Discovery’s pivot from a linear TV-only company to a leading content provider across all screens and services around the world,” David Zaslav, Discovery’s chief executive, told investors.

The combined company would also have more muscle in negotiations with cable and other distributors when contracts come up for renewal, executives said.

By adding Scripps programming, Discovery could also launch its own “skinny bundle” of networks at a low cost, executives said.

The combined company would be home to five of the top cable networks for women with more than a 20 percent share of women prime-time viewers in the United States, according to Discovery.

Discovery will evaluate the Scripps channels, as it has its own, to figure out if any could be web-based, Zaslav said on the call.

Scripps has been considered a takeover target since the Scripps family trust, which controlled the company, was dissolved five years ago.

Under the terms of the deal, Scripps CEO Ken Lowe would join the board of the combined company.

The deal requires regulatory and shareholder approvals. Major shareholders including cable magnate John Malone, Advance/Newhouse Programming Partnership and members of the Scripps family, support the deal, the companies said.

Discovery had tried unsuccessfully twice before to buy Scripps. Discovery outbid Viacom Inc for Scripps, Reuters reported first last week.

Guggenheim Securities and Goldman Sachs served as financial advisers to Discovery. Allen & Co LLC and J.P. Morgan Securities served as financial advisers to Scripps.

Evercore Group served as financial adviser to the Scripps family.

Reporting by: Jessica Toonkel; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Steve Orlofsky

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