(Reuters) - Comcast Corp confirmed for the first time on Wednesday it was preparing a higher, all-cash offer for the businesses that Twenty-First Century Fox has agreed to sell to Walt Disney Co.
While the U.S. cable operator said it was still considering its position, it said it was in advanced stages of readying an offer that would be "superior" and "at a premium" to Disney's all stock offer.
"While no final decision has been made, at this point the work to finance the all-cash offer and make the key regulatory filings is well advanced," Comcast said.
Sources familiar with the deal told Reuters at the start of May that Comcast was preparing bridge financing for a cash offer for the Fox assets, but Wednesday's statement is the first formal confirmation by the company it is ready to move.
The same sources said Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts will only proceed with a bid if a federal judge next month allows AT&T Inc's planned $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner Inc to proceed.
Disney in December offered stock then worth $52.4 billion to buy Fox's film, television and international businesses as it bids to beef up its offering against streaming rivals Netflix Inc and Amazon.com Inc.
Disney shares have fallen nearly 3.3 percent since, reducing the value of the offer to just over $50 billion.
"It all depends on the AT&T and Time Warner deal," said Brian Weiser, analyst at Pivotal Research. "If that goes through it is highly possible there will more than one bid for Fox."
Fox and Disney were not immediately available for comment.
Comcast, owner of NBC and Universal Pictures, has also made a 22 billion pound ($30 billion) offer to acquire the 61 percent stake in European pay-TV group Sky Plc that Fox does not already own. In doing so, it topped an earlier offer for the entirety of Sky by Fox.
A regulatory filing in April showed Comcast offered to acquire most of Fox's assets in an all-stock deal valued at $34.41 per share, or $64 billion last November - just before Disney's offer was agreed.
After a sale, Fox's remaining assets will include Fox News, Fox Business Network and sports cable networks.
Comcast shares were down 2 percent at $31.83 while Disney was down 0.7 percent at $103.26 in premarket trading.
"I think Fox, or its controlling shareholder and Board of Directors, has already expressed their preference - Disney, even though Comcast allegedly offered a higher consideration already," said Jeffrey Logsdon, an analyst with JBL Advisors in California.
"Comcast does seem intent on winning this one (and) rivalry can frequently drive prices to un-economic levels."
(Additional reporting by Laharee Chatterjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Patrick Graham and Sriraj Kalluvila)