While the UK Enterprise Act grants Hancock the power to intervene in media mergers on public interest ground, he said that the evidence presented so far does not seem to justify such a move.
Comcast formally notified the European Commission of its intention to acquire Sky on May 7, leaving it to Hancock to decide whether or not the bid warranted the issuing of a European Intervention Notice (EIN).
“Having reviewed the relevant evidence available, I can confirm that I have today written to the parties to inform them that I am minded not to issue an EIN on the basis that the proposed merger does not raise concerns in relation to public interest considerations which would meet the threshold for intervention,” said Hancock.
Interested parties have until Thursday to submit written representations ahead of a final decision being taken.
Responding to the news, Sky noted that Hancock would “consider further representations” to be submitted by Thursday’s deadline.
In assessing Comcast’s bid, Hancock took the view that the merged entity “would not have a significantly larger presence in the UK news market than that already exercised by Sky plc and Sky News, and would have no greater ability to influence the news agenda”.
He pointed out that Comcast’s TV and online presence in the UK is relatively small, with CNBC’s audience too small to be recorded by Ofcom.
Hancock said that Comcast’s interest in Buzzfeed, which had been raised by some third parties, was a non-controlling investment that would have no impact on media plurality.
In the DCMS’s letter to Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, Hancock was also cited as having “no concerns” about the range of programming that Comcast and Sky would show, or on the choice in terms of programming origination available to UK viewers.
Regarding broadcasting standards, Hancock found that Comcast’s record of compliance was at least comparable to other US broadcast groups and that only one breach of conduct in its news and current affairs activities had been recorded in the last five years.
The DCMS statement makes it highly likely that Comcast will be able to proceed with its bid, giving weight to the US group’s argument that it would not face the same regulatory scrutiny that has delayed 21st Century Fox’s attempt to acquire the 61% of Sky that it does not already own.
Fox’s own bid is subject to approval by the UK competition watchdog, the Completion and Markets Authority. The organisation has until the end of this month to deliver its verdict, leaving Hancock until June 13 to make a final decision
If Fox is cleared, it will have to increase its bid to top Comcast’s £22 billion offer (€25 billion). Fox’s existing bid values Sky at around £19 billion.