UPDATED with replacement: 21st Century Fox’s $15.6 billion takeover of British pay-TV operator Sky could face a further bump in the road after UK Culture Secretary Karen Bradley – one of the key figures standing in the way of the deal – left her post.
Bradley, a key confidant of British Prime Minister Theresa May, has been named as Northern Ireland Secretary as part of a government reshuffle. She has been Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport since July 2016.
Her second-in-command Matt Hancock has been appointed to replace her.
The move could further delay the Murdoch family’s attempts to take over Sky. In December, local regulatory arm the Competition and Markets Authority revealed it would publish its findings reviewing the proposed deal in mid-January, rather than the initial date of December 18.
The CMA is investigating the deal and particularly how the Murdoch Family Trust’s control over Sky News might change after a merger; what potential influence the trust would have on the political agenda; and Fox, Sky, the trust and News Corp’s approach to corporate governance. It has been suggested that Disney’s ownership of the business may make such a transaction slightly more appealing to UK regulators.
It was Bradley who referred the takeover to the CMA in September on the grounds of media plurality and commitment to broadcasting standards, the latest in a long series of delays for Rupert Murdoch’s attempt to buy the long-coveted 61% of pay-TV giant Sky that Fox does not already own. Following its deal with Disney, Fox said that it expected the deal to be closed by June 30, 2018, and that it was confident the CMA and Bradley will approve the transaction. They will now turn their attention to Hancock.
Elsewhere, the future of British broadcaster Channel 4 remains up in the air following Bradley’s new brief. The MP for Staffordshire Moorlands has led the charge for C4 to relocate out of London and it’s believed that she was close to reaching a compromise with the broadcaster’s recently installed CEO Alex Mahon. Whether negotiations will need to start from scratch – the move was part of the Conservative government’s manifesto pledge – is unclear, but C4 will be hoping for a quick answer, as it spent much of 2017 dealing with the issue of relocation.