Britain unlikely to investigate Comcast bid for Sky, says minister

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LONDON (Reuters) - Britain said it was unlikely to refer Comcast's CMCSA.O bid for Sky SKYB.L for a lengthy investigation after an initial review found that the $30 billion offer did not raise public concerns about media ownership.

Media minister Matt Hancock said however that he would give interested parties until 1700 local time on May 24 to respond before giving his final decision on whether the deal should be examined by British as well as European officials.

Sky is at the center of a bid battle between Comcast, the world's biggest entertainment company, and Rupert Murdoch's Twenty-First Century Fox FOXA.O, which founded the British pay-TV group and already owns 39 percent.

Unlike Comcast, Fox has faced lengthy political and regulatory delays. After agreeing an initial takeover in December 2016, it is still waiting for the government to say whether it should be allowed to buy Sky.

Hancock said on Monday that the Comcast bid was unlikely to be challenged.

“I am minded not to issue a European Intervention Notice on the basis that the proposed merger does not raise concerns in relation to public interest considerations which would meet the threshold for intervention,” he said of the Comcast offer.

Comcast’s bid for Sky is however being examined in Brussels after the company notified the European Commission of its intention to buy the group which broadcasts in Britain, Ireland, Germany, Austria and Italy.

Next month Fox will find out from the UK whether it is permitted to buy Sky, while Comcast will receive a verdict from European authorities, which could potentially end the regulatory uncertainty attached to the deal, and pave the way for a takeover battle on price.

Reporting by Kate Holton; editing by Sarah Young