European antitrust regulators approved the Walt Disney Co.’s $71.3-billion offer to buy 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets today, on the condition that it sell its stake in certain television channels in Europe.
Disney will have to divest its interests in History, H2, Crime & Investigation, Blaze and Lifetime in the European Economic Area (EEA) to avoid harming competition following its purchase from Fox. The channels are controlled by A+E Television Networks, which is a joint venture between Disney and Hearst.
The Commission’s action has no bearing on the operation of the channels in the U.S. and elsewhere. (H2 was rebranded as Viceland in the U.S. in 2016.)
The European Commission’s investigation found that combining Fox and Disney’s film studios raised no concerns because the merged company still faces significant competition from other film studios, including Sony, Universal and Warner Bros.
In a statement, Disney indicated it is aiming to get final approval for the merger in the territories where regulators still haven’t rendered a verdict.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice granted its approval, provided that Disney divest Fox’s 22 regional sports networks. Officially, Disney and Fox have forecast closing the deal in the first half of 2019, but multiple sources have pointed to early in the year as the key time, and both companies have altered their executive suites in anticipation.
“We are gratified by the decision of the European Commission to clear the transaction with the sole remedial measure being the divesting of our interests in Europe of the History, H2, Crime + Investigation, Blaze and Lifetime channels,” Disney’s statement said. “Disney will continue to be a 50% owner of A&E apart from the companies operating these channels in Europe. We continue to pursue clearance as quickly as possible in the jurisdictions that remain.”