What next with Fox-Disney-Comcast ?

MUMBAI: Part poker, part chess. That's exactly how the Disney-Comcast bidding war for Rupert Murdoch's entertainment conglomerate - 21 Century Fox - is being played out. The intense, see-saw battle for the media empire, which includes Hollywood studios, cable networks and streaming businesses, isn't nearing its end just yet. Nine days out of 10, $70 billion will get you whatever your want in life. But when you're up against Comcast, the tenth day is the one that matters and even $70 billion might not be enough.

According to analysts and industry insiders, Comcast is set to return to the negotiating table with a new and improved offer in the  low-to-mid $40s a share range. This could effectively take the bidding to $80 billion, 10 more than Disney's cash and stock offer.

Disney’s new bid on Tuesday, was 35 per cent higher than its earlier offer and close to $6 billion more than Comcast’s. But as things stand, they could end up paying more than they'd anticipated.

Why? Because Comcast isn't likely to budge given the pressure on its pay-TV business. Hence in its attempt to diversify and attain scale, the Fox bid is an important play for the company's strategy going forward.

However, the Disney executives know that the six-month head start they enjoy over Comcast in terms of regulatory review, could end up swinging this deal in their favour. Irrespective of what the winning bid is, a Disney-Fox deal, will get past the regulators far quicker than a Comcast-Fox deal is big boss Bob Iger's belief. 

And Murdoch understands this. He also understands how eager Bob Iger and Brian Roberts are to shake his hand in order to land some of the world's hottest properties - 20th Century Fox film studio, the FX and National Geographic cable channels, almost two dozen regional sports networks, a stake in Sky and Star India.

A handful of investment analysts are watching with their faces grimacing in pain. They worry that the debt both the mouse house and Comcast will take on in their hunger to swallow up Fox could topple them over. But both Iger and Roberts are not perturbed by the carping. 

We now await the next instalment of this blockbuster. Disney's made its move, Comcast is on the verge of making one. Call it the chess board or the poker table, Murdoch owns them both.

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