April 19, 2018 / 6:22 AM / 2 years ago

Sky reports strong quarter before bid battle steps up

LONDON (Reuters) - Sky SKYB.L, the pay-TV group at the center of a takeover battle between Fox, Disney and Comcast, reported a strong third quarter on Thursday, underlining its appeal to rival U.S. entertainment groups who want to expand in Europe.

FILE PHOTO: The Sky logo is seen on outside of an entrance to offices and studios in west London, Britain June 29, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

Chief Executive Jeremy Darroch said the British company was “well placed for the future” regardless of which company emerged as its ultimate owner.

Sky added 38,000 customers, taking its customer base to nearly 23 million homes.

Core earnings for the nine months to end-March were up 10 percent to 1.7 billion pounds ($2.4 billion) on like-for-like revenue up 5 percent to 10.1 billion pounds.

The latest battle to buy Sky started in December 2016, when Rupert Murdoch’s Twenty-First Century Fox (FOXA.O), the owner of 39 percent of the company, agreed to buy the rest.

Since then, the deal has been stuck in regulatory purgatory, a tortuous process due to end in June.

But if Fox receives clearance it is unlikely to end up as the long-term owner of Sky.

Murdoch agreed to sell most of Fox to Disney (DIS.N) for $52.4 billion in December, including its stake in Sky.

Fox spurned a higher offer from U.S. cable giant Comcast (CMCSA.O) over concerns about regulatory risk and its stock value, a filing showed on Wednesday.

After losing that battle, Comcast said it was considering making a 12.50 pounds a share offer for Sky, valuing the group at $31 billion, and trumping the 10.75 pounds offer agreed by Fox.

Darroch said on Thursday there had been some interaction between Sky and Comcast in terms of the regulatory process.

“They haven’t yet come forward with a full offer, as and when they do that, if they do, then we will obviously come back and talk a bit more in detail then,” he told reporters.

Fox/Disney and Comcast want to buy Sky to scale up against online groups Netflix Inc (NFLX.O) and Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O).

Darroch said Sky was continuing to improve its own products and services to ensure it provided the content entertainment its customers wanted.

It will launch streaming service Spotify (SPOT.N) on its flagship Sky Q platform next week, and will offer Netflix (NFLX.O) in a Sky package in Britain before the end of the year, he said.

“Customers can look forward to an even broader choice of entertainment through our pioneering new partnerships with Netflix and Spotify, together with our new Premier League deal which secures the UK rights until 2022,” he said.

Sky shares were trading at 13.05 pounds at 1036 GMT, down 0.3 percent.

Editing by Jason Neely

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