Reports are coming out of the US tonight that Disney has been in talks to buy much of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox business, including its movie and TV studios and its 39% share of Sky.
If the deal went ahead, and assuming it pushed on with the planned takeover of Sky, Disney would become the UK’s biggest pay-TV provider with a suite of top-flight TV and movie rights deals, plus a dominant status in sports broadcasting.
But there’s a small local irony at play.
In 2013 Disney closed down the UK version of its flagship sports channel ESPN and sold on the broadcasting rights to various UK sports to BT which had beaten it in the Premier League rights auction.
The deal also gave BT use of the ESPN brand in the UK, as well as the right to screen various US sports on its channels. The two firms extended the deal for another 7 years in 2015.
Depending on when the original deal was due to expire, this potentially gives BT rights to one of Disney’s key brands until at least 2022, but possibly later.
BT’s decision to make use of an Ofcom ruling allowing channel owners to sell their products direct to Sky customers, rather than strike a wholesale deal with Sky, means customers on a Disney owned platform would have to buy a channel sporting one of Disney’s own brands, from another operator.
Of course the deal might include a break clause, allowing Disney to serve notice to BT and regain control over the ESPN brand and its associated content.
But if the wider Fox/Disney deal does go ahead it’ll be interesting both to see how this affects the Disney/BT deal and whether it has any impact on the failure of Sky and BT to reach wholesale agreements for their respective channels.