The Murdochs have never been content as minority shareholders in Sky, the European satellite-TV and internet provider.
Just days after 21st Century Fox(FOXA) - Get Report CEO James Murdoch told an investor conference in New York that the company wasn't satisfied with its 39% position in Sky, the New York global media conglomerate has reached a preliminary deal to take full control of the London broadband operator and content producer.
"We think the Sky business is a great business," Murdoch said on Monday at the UBS Media and Communications Conference in New York. "But we've said before that long term, the 39% holding is really not a natural end state for us. But again, we haven't made any decision, and there's no new news on that."
Well, now there is.
In a statement Friday, Sky said that its independent directors would recommend to the London-based company's full board that it accept a Fox bid of £10.75 per share ($13.58) for the remaining roughly 61% of the broadband services provider that it doesn't already own. The offer values Sky at £18.5 billion, meaning Fox would pay roughly £11.25 billion for the remaining equity.
Shares in Sky traded in London surged 31.1% on the news to 1,034.72 pence. Sky said the offer represented a 40% premium to its closing share price on Tuesday, the last day before it received the offer.
Fox shares in New York were falling 3.2% on Friday to $27.73.
In an emailed statement, Fox said that the offer remains under discussion and that a deal may not be finalized.
Acquiring all of Sky would fulfill a goal that Rupert Murdoch, Fox's controlling shareholder, last pursued publicly in 2010 until information emerged that reporters at two of his newspapers had hacked into the mobile phones of celebrities, politicians and others, a scandal that led to the closing of the company's News of the World, a London tabloid.
With years having passed since the phone hackings, and a new prime minister in England, Murdoch may have sensed that politicians and regulators would look more favorably on Fox buying all of Sky especially given local fears that the country could be adversely effected by Great Britain decision to leave the European Unioni.
"There was no question Rupert still wanted Sky," Larry Haverty, a portfolio manager at Gabelli Funds, which oversees $40 billion in assets, said in a phone interview from New York. "The only question was when he thought it would be politically appropriate to do the deal. He could have waited six months for Brexit to take place, but he seems to think that the timing makes sense for right now."
Fox buying all of Sky may have become more pressing for the Murdochs considering that two rivals, AT&T(T) - Get Report and Time Warner (TWX) , agreed in October to merge in an $85.4 billion deal that would combine a global telecommunications company with the owner of HBO, CNN and the Warner Bros. movie studio. AT&T is pushing U.S. regulators to approve the deal which is likely to create a more formidable competitor in internet streaming and wireless video.
Fox has similar ambitions for Europe. Sky would give the Murdochs more opportunities to offer new pay-TV and internet-based entertainment and sports packages throughout England and the four other countries where sky operates: Germany, Austria, Ireland and Italy.
The deal could also bolster London's position in the region still absorbing the effects of Great Britain's decision to leave the European Union. As full owner of the broadband company, Fox would "enhance Sky's leading position in entertainment and sport and reinforce the U.K.'s standing as a top global hub for content generation and technological innovation," the company said in the statement.
The stab at Sky also shows that the Murdochs remain willing to make large acquisitions even as some investors in recent years have urged James and his brother Lachlan, Fox's chairman, to show more restraint with capital allocation.
Fox, of course, tried and failed to acquire Time Warner in 2014 in a deal valued at $80 billion, a rare Murdoch defeat in the bruising game of mergers and acquisitions that Rupert Murdoch has largely won over a span of more than five decades.
Consolidating Sky under 21st Century Fox also satisfies the Murdoch's aim in recent years to exit businesses or regions, China for instance, where it lacked complete control of an asset or its prospects for growth were uncertain. Together with Sky, James Murdoch said this week that the company is broadly structures around its Fox portfolio of TV and film properties, its National Geographic business and Star, its India television group.
"I feel like those are big brands that are really making a difference for customers in their marketplace; we're able to innovate around them," Murdoch said. "I think it's a really good set of brands and a good mix, and we don't feel the urge to go and acquire some other large piece that can fit into that mix."
Yet all of Sky appears to be an acquisition the Murdochs do want to make.