Comcast, which last week unveiled a £22bn offer for Sky, has been labelled the “worst company in America” twice in recent years over shoddy customer service and pricing. It has also been involved in regulatory transgressions which legal experts believe means its plan to take over Sky should be closely scrutinised by watchdogs.
The pay-TV firm, which is poised to formalise its bid to try to steal Sky from under Rupert Murdoch’s nose, announced a $300m plan to spruce up customer service three years ago, but to little avail so far. Comcast was named “America’s most-hated company” in a respected customer satisfaction survey last year.
Just two days before Hancock’s announcement, the Murdoch family’s long-held ambitions to own the whole of Sky faced a far mightier opponent than a government with a wafer thin majority. Comcast, a telecoms and entertainment giant valued by the market at some $184bn (£130bn) – more than twice the value of 21st Century Fox – looks set to outfox the man who started Sky in 1989 and built it into Europe’s most significant satellite television platform. By offering 16% more to Sky shareholders, who have been waiting for over a year while competition regulators agonise over the possibility of increasing Murdoch’s dominance, Comcast has highlighted that market economics can trump media power.The appearance of a huge US business, the owner of NBC television and Universal Studios, to spoil Murdoch’s takeover plans, shores up his argument for a merger with Disney. Despite the local power held by his newspapers – which is largely unchanged – the Murdoch media empire is relatively small compared with the Apples and Amazons of the world. Comcast makes a fortune from telecommunications in the US but revenues from the rest of its business are just 9% of its total.In this game of superscale, Murdoch’s desire to control Sky has twice been held up by regulatory questions over the behaviour of his employees: first through phone hacking, then with sexual harassment allegations. It’s worth pointing out that Comcast, like so many media groups, has been tarnished by the latter: its television network NBC fired its best known presenter Matt Lauer amid harassment allegations last year.