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London (AFP) – Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox on Wednesday increased its takeover offer for Sky, valuing the pan-European TV group at £24.5 billion and trumping Comcast’s rival bid.

21st Century Fox’s improved approach is for the 61 percent of Sky it does not own. 

New York-listed 21CF raised its offer to £14 for each outstanding share, up substantially on a previous tilt that was pitched at £10.75. 

Following the announcement, Sky’s share price was down 1.4 percent at £14.81, though above the improved offer with analysts betting on an extension to the bidding war.

“Fox coming back in for Sky isn’t a surprise in itself, but the fact the offer is slightly behind what some had anticipated brings another twist,” said George Salmon, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

“In fact, there’s every chance it might entice another counter from Comcast. That might explain why the shares still trade above the latest offer price.”

Fox’s new bid values the whole of Sky at £24.5 billion ($32.5 billion or 27.7 billion euros), beating an offer of £22 billion from US cable giant Comcast for the satellite TV group.

A statement issued Wednesday by Fox said: “Today, 21CF and the Independent Committee of Sky are pleased to announce that they have reached agreement on an increased… cash offer.”

– Concerns over plurality –

Fox’s long-running pursuit for all of Sky has been plagued by UK government fears over media plurality and broadcasting standards — and the influence of Australian-born US citizen Murdoch.

Murdoch owns major British newspaper titles The Times and The Sun and critics say obtaining full control also of the rolling television channel Sky News would give him too much influence in the news business.

To remedy this, Fox has proposed to sell Sky News to Disney as part of a full takeover.

In a further twist, Walt Disney is battling with Comcast for key assets of 21st Century Fox.

Should Disney succeed, it will obtain Fox’s 39 percent stake in Sky as part of the package. 

Sky’s jewel in the crown is its live coverage of English Premier League football, while the group also provides broadband internet and telephone services.

Sky changed its name from BSkyB after agreeing in 2014 to buy Sky Italia and a majority holding in Sky Deutschland.

In 2011, Murdoch was forced to abandon a takeover bid for BSkyB — as controversy raged over the hacking of celebrities and crime victims by his tabloid the News of the World, which was subsequently shut down.

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