LONDON, Sept 22 (Reuters) - A banker from one of Britain's leading boutique advisory firms pressed the button on Comcast's knockout $40 billion bid for broadcaster Sky.
The U.S. cable giant emerged victorious on Saturday evening from its protracted battle with Rupert Murdoch's Twenty-First Century Fox for London-listed Sky with a 17.28 pounds-a-share offer.
That far surpassed the 15.67 pounds-a-share final bid made by Fox, which was seeking to acquire the 61 percent of Sky that it does not already own. If Comcast had only offered marginally more than Fox, Murdoch's company could have fought on for control of Sky because its stake would have given it an upper hand.
"When you're competing against a 39 percent shareholder you've got to be quite aggressive," said a source close to Comcast.
Murdoch's group was backed by Walt Disney, which has struck a separate deal to buy the bulk of Fox's television and film assets, including the Sky stake, and which would have eventually taken ownership of the Sky if Fox had beaten Comcast.
The winner was decided by a rare auction process orchestrated by the Takeover Panel, which regulates mergers and acquisition activity in Britain. The Sky takeover is the biggest deal that has ever gone to such a process in the UK.
Brian Roberts, Comcast's chief executive, was based in a hotel in London's West End for the duration of the auction, according to a source with knowledge of the matter. He was with a team of advisers that included investment banks Evercore and Bank of America and boutique firm Robey Warshaw.
Bids were submitted to the panel by email to a secure website set up by the regulator and it was Philip Apostolides, a banker at Robey Warshaw, who was responsible for sending the cable giant's winning offer, according to two sources.
Robey Warshaw declined to comment.
Based in a townhouse in London's upmarket Mayfair district, the boutique was founded by investment bankers Sir Simon Robey, Simon Warshaw and Apostolides in 2013 and since then has worked on some of Britain's biggest takeovers.
Comcast has been vying for Sky since February, when it gate-crashed Fox's deal to buy the London-listed pay-TV group. Fox first agreed to take control of the broadcaster in December 2016 but its takeover was held up by intense regulatory scrutiny in the UK.
To bring the lengthy bidding war to an end, the panel announced on Thursday that it would hold a one-day auction in private lasting a maximum of three rounds, to force the rival suitors to declare their best and final offers for Sky.
Going in to the auction, Comcast had bid 14.75 pounds a share for the British company and Fox had offered 14 pounds.
The auction went the distance, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters. Fox opened the bidding in the first stage, with Comcast responding with a revised bid in the second round. The level of these bids is not known.
Both bidders could make offers in the third and final round in what were blind bids. (Reporting by Ben Martin Editing by Bill Trott)