Rare quick-fire auction could settle fate of broadcaster Sky

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The battle for control of satellite broadcaster Sky, between United States rivals Comcast and Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox, will now be settled by an auction on Saturday, UK regulators have today stated.

The Takeover Panel said that the auction would start at 17:00 London time on Friday and end on Saturday evening.

The panel will make an announcement with the results of the auction "as soon as practicable" - a dramatic finish to one of the most tense takeover sagas in recent memory in Britain.

It comes after Comcast increased its offer for Sky to £26 billion in July, just hours after Fox hiked its bid for the 61% stake in the United Kingdom broadcaster that it does not already own to £24.5 billion.

Fox's bid for Sky is backed by Walt Disney, which in June agreed a separate deal to buy TV and film assets from Fox, including its existing 39 percent Sky shareholding, for about $71 billion. First, 21st Century Fox will bid, then Comcast. The battle is part of a larger contest between Disney and Comcast to take over many of Fox's media and entertainment assets.

The British broadcaster has a market capitalization of more than $35 billion.

Sky also has a suite of sought-after TV content to lure and retain subscribers, including United Kingdom rights to Premier League soccer.

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The current highest bid for Sky was a $34 billion bid from Comcast made July 11.

It is rare for the Panel to run auctions in takeover situations, with Tata's victory in acquiring United Kingdom steelmaker Corus in 2008 one of just a few in the past decade.

An auction for Sky, which broadcasts to 23 million households across Europe, would the biggest ever deal in the United Kingdom to be decided by a panel-run auction.

The auction begins at 1600 GMT on Friday, Sept. 21. Fox's latest offer stands at 14 pounds per share. In the second round, Comcast can make a higher counter-bid. The rules allow for the suitors' final bids to be equal. They will do so knowing what their rival has done in the previous round, a source close to the process said.

After discussions with both companies vying for Sky, and noting that neither Comcast nor Fox has declared its final offer, the Takeover Panel said it established the auction procedure "to provide an orderly framework for the resolution of the competitive situation".

The battle for Sky is set to go to an auction, which will be settled Saturday. With stiff opposition to the Fox bid in the U.K., Comcast entered the fray earlier this year, setting up a bidding war between two media heavyweights.

The United Kingdom's Takeover Panel will regulate the auction and disclosed how the process will work Thursday, reported The Wall Street Journal.

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