Decision would remove hurdle for U.S. cable firm in monthslong takeover battle
LONDON - Britain is unlikely to open an antitrust review into Comcast Corp."s CMCSA -0.29% $30 billion bid for U.K. pay-TV giant Sky PLC, a senior government official said Monday, removing a hurdle for the cable firm in a takeover battle that also includes 21st Century Fox Inc. and Walt Disney Co.
U.K. Culture Secretary Matt Hancock said he had told both Comcast and Sky that he was "not minded to" intervene in the proposed merger. That wording, used by British politicians to indicate a likely outcome, isn't binding. Mr. Hancock said he would allow interested parties, which could include Fox and Disney, until Thursday to submit arguments for and against a government review of the deal. Then he will make a final decision.
However, Comcast's proposed Sky acquisition does face a review by European Union antitrust regulators, who are scheduled to make a decision by June 15.
The independent directors of Sky have said they will consider competing offers from Fox and Comcast. Fox has bid ?10.75 a share, while Comcast has offered ?12.50. Investors have sent Sky shares well above that mark, to ?13.62 a share as of Monday afternoon, in anticipation of a bidding war.
In a statement, Sky acknowledged Mr. Hancock's preliminary decision. Comcast said it welcomed the statement. A Fox spokesman didn't immediately return requests for comment.
The U.K. government's guidance Monday marks the latest step in a monthslong saga.
Fox in December 2016 proposed a $16 billion deal to buy the 61% of Sky it doesn't already own. British antitrust regulators reviewed the proposal, saying they were concerned that Fox's full ownership of Sky, which runs a news channel, could give media mogul Rupert Murdoch and his family too much influence over U.K. media.
Mr. Murdoch and his family are major shareholders in Fox and in News Corp, which publishes three major British newspapers, as well as The Wall Street Journal.
To mollify regulators, Fox has proposed setting up an independent board to oversee Sky's news operations. In addition, Disney has offered to buy Sky's news channel. Disney in December 2017 launched its own $52 billion to buy the majority of Fox assets, including its 39% stake in Sky. Mr. Hancock will make a final decision on Fox's proposed offer by June 13.
Compared with the Murdoch family, Comcast has a much smaller U.K. presence, operating TV channels in the country via its NBCUniversal unit.
Write to Stu Woo at Stu.Woo@wsj.com