Strike three: Comcast can add Fox to list of huge acquisitions it’s failed to close

  • Comcast CEO Brian Roberts is dropping his pursuit to buy Fox.
  • Roberts has also withdrawn bids to buy Disney and Time Warner Cable.
  • Roberts could still walk away with an M&A win if Comcast buys Sky — or he could add yet another swing and miss.

Declaring failure on a huge telecommunications acquisition has become old hat for Comcast CEO Brian Roberts.

Comcast on Thursday formally withdrew its bid for Fox to focus on buying smaller U.K. media company Sky, as CNBC first reported earlier this week.

In 2004, Comcast made an unsolicited $54 billion to acquire Disney, the very company it’s been dueling with to acquire the Fox assets.

“This is a combination that we believe would restore the Disney brand,” Roberts said during a conference call at the time. “There is no doubt that these two companies can achieve things together that they would not be able to do alone.”

Disney resisted, and about three months later, Comcast threw in the towel, refusing to “bid against ourselves.” Similar to Thursday’s news, investors appreciated Comcast’s discipline, sending shares higher when Comcast decided to stop bidding for Disney. Today, Disney’s market capitalization is about $170 billion, more than triple Comcast’s bid at the time.

Then in 2014, Comcast reached a $45 billion deal to buy Time Warner Cable. But when regulators started to question Comcast’s broadband power and adherence to behavioral conditions from its prior NBC Universal deal, Comcast dropped its attempt at buying the company. Time Warner Cable reached a deal with smaller cable peer Charter soon after Comcast walked away for $55 billion. Charter today is an $80 billion company.

To be sure, Roberts has successfully acquired a number of huge companies as well — NBC in a two-part deal from General Electric, MediaOne for $60 billion in 1999 and AT&T Broadband for $72 billion in 2001.

Comcast’s decision that it won’t top Disney’s most recent cash-and-stock offer for Disney, valued at more than $71 billion on June 20, doesn’t stop the acquisition train for Roberts quite yet. Comcast will continue its bidding war against Fox (working in tandem with Disney) for Sky. Comcast currently has the highest offer for Sky at £14.75 ($19.20) per share, valuing the 61 percent of Sky that trades publicly at $34 billion.

Fox-Disney hasn’t yet signaled if it will let Roberts take Sky or will fight back with yet another higher offer.

That means Roberts still has a chance to come away victorious on a deal — and also has a chance at a rare strike four.

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