By DANICA KIRKA
LONDON (AP) — Comcast and 21st Century Fox will settle their battle for control of broadcaster Sky through a rare auction designed to put an end to months of offers and counteroffers from the American media empires seeking a foothold in the European pay TV market.
The auction will begin after the London stock market’s close on Friday and end sometime Saturday evening following a maximum of three rounds of bidding, Britain’s Takeover Panel said in a statement.
Fox started the bidding war last December, when it sought to acquire the 61 percent of Sky it doesn’t already own. Comcast has since offered 26 billion pounds ($34.3 billion) for Sky, topping Fox’s latest bid of $24.5 billion.
The panel said it called the auction “to provide an orderly framework for the resolution of this competitive situation.”
Fox, as the current low bidder, will have the right to make a new offer during the first round of the auction, and Comcast will have the opportunity to counter it during the second round. Both parties will have the chance to make increased offers during the third and final round. All bids must be in cash.
The panel will make an announcement with the results of the auction “as soon as practicable” — a dramatic finish to one of the most tense takeover sagas in recent memory in Britain.
Sky operates in Austria, Germany, Ireland and Italy as well as the U.K. It has 22.5 million customers, attracted by offerings such as English Premier League soccer and “Game of Thrones.”
Fox’s bid for Sky is the most recent effort by Rupert Murdoch to take full control of the valuable media company.
His last bid foundered amid a 2011 phone-hacking scandal, in which journalists working for Murdoch newspapers were accused of gaining illegal access to the voicemail messages of crime victims, celebrities and members of the royal family.
News Corp., which is controlled by the Murdochs, withdrew its bid for Sky soon after.