Coincidence? We’ll report, you decide: Fox says today that it has decided to stop feeding Fox News Channel to the UK.
The decision was made as the country’s Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport weighs whether to ask the Competition and Markets Authority to review Fox’s £11.6 billion ($14.6 billion) bid to acquire the 61% of Sky that it does not already own. Sky is the country’s top pay TV provider.
The company attributes the decision to ratings.
“Fox News is focused on the U.S. market and designed for a U.S. audience and, accordingly, it averages only a few thousand viewers across the day in the UK,” the company says. “We have concluded that it is not in our commercial interest to continue providing Fox News in the UK.”
Still, the change could factor into culture secretary Karen Bradley’s thinking days after she received the “additional advice” she sought early this month from media regulator Ofcom about the Fox-Sky deal.
Last month, Bradley said she was “still minded” to refer the deal to the Competition and Markets Authority — but on concerns about its impact on media diversity, not Fox’s “commitment to broadcasting standards.”
If she seeks a competition review, then it could create problems for Fox. Reviews can take up to six months to complete, potentially putting a decision off until 2018.
But Fox is on the hook to pay a £170 million ($219 million) dividend to Sky shareholders if the deal doesn’t close by the end of the year. If the deal is scrapped, then Fox will have to pay Sky £200 million ($258 million).
Bradley said in June that the transaction “raises public interest concerns as a result of the risk of increased influence by members of the Murdoch Family Trust over the UK news agenda and the political process, with its unique presence on radio, television, in print and online. We consider that the plurality concerns may justify the Secretary of State making a reference to the Competition and Markets Authority.”
Last year Ofcom said that Fox News had run opinions favoring the country’s Brexit vote on the day of the referendum, violating rules that bar broadcasters from discussing issues while the polls are open.