November 1, 2018 / 6:13 PM / 13 days ago

Fox's Murdoch mulls buying back regional sports networks from Disney

FILE PHOTO - Lachlan Murdoch, son of Rupert Murdoch, CEO of News Corp. and 20th Century Fox arrives for the annual Allen and Co. Conference at the Sun Valley, Idaho Resort July 9, 2013. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

(Reuters) - Twenty-First Century Fox Inc Executive Chairman Lachlan Murdoch said Thursday it is still an “open question” whether the company will buy back the regional sports networks it sold to entertainment company Walt Disney Co in July as part of a $71 billion deal.

Speaking at the New York Times Co’s DealBook conference in New York, Murdoch, who will become CEO of the remaining company “New Fox,” said the company “will be inquisitive” in looking at the possibility of buying back the sports assets.

Disney won a bidding war earlier this year against cable company Comcast Corp to acquire Fox’s film and TV assets. But the U.S. Justice Department has said Disney, which owns cable sports network ESPN, must divest Fox’s 22 networks that provide sports programming for regional and local markets.

Murdoch said New Fox, which will include the Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network, will be strong in live programming, but viewership for live entertainment programs specifically is declining in the industry. Live sports can help support live entertainment programming, he added.

Murdoch also said U.S. wireless carrier Verizon Communications Inc had called Fox 18 months ago to discuss a possible acquisition, but said the company felt the assets would not be the right fit with Verizon.

A Verizon spokesman declined to comment.

Reporting by Sheila Dang; Editing by David Gregorio

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