The Takeover Panel said film and TV group 21st Century Fox and cable giant Comcast would take part in a three-round fight for control of the satellite broadcaster tomorrow if neither party has admitted defeat by 5pm today.
The panel will announce the result “as soon as practicable”, with the possibility both parties could bid identical sums.
The rarely-used process – only a handful of takeovers have been decided this way since the turn of the century including Tata Steel’s 2007 victory over Brazil’s CSN for Anglo-Dutch steelmaker Corus – will bring to an end one of Britain’s longest-running bid dramas.
Rupert Murdoch’s Fox began it by bidding £10.75-a-share in December 2016 for the 61 per cent it did not already own in Sky, home to fantasy drama Game Of Thrones. But the proposed deal was held up by regulatory scrutiny over whether it would give him too much control over UK news providers.
Comcast gatecrashed Murdoch’s bid in February this year when it signalled a £12.50 approach valuing Sky at just over £22billion. Fox tabled a £24.5billion offer in July, but this was immediately trumped by Comcast’s £14.75-a-share bid, valuing Sky at £26billion.
Fox, as the party going into the auction with the lowest offer, would be the only party allowed to increase their bid in the first round, while the bidder excluded from the first round, currently Comcast, would be the sole party allowed to up the ante in the second round.
If no clear winner has emerged at that point, both parties will be allowed to raise the sakes in a final round, concluding on Saturday evening. Comcast had been involved in a bid battle with Disney for a number of Fox’s entertainment assets including The Simpsons and the its Hollywood film studio, but dropped out after Disney upped its offer to $71.3billion (£54billion) to focus on Sky.
Hargreaves Lansdown senior analyst, Laith Khalaf, said: “It’s anyone’s guess which media giant will walk away with Sky, and at what price.” Sky shares closed unchanged at 1580p.