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Rebecca Zisser

Walt Disney Co. has been granted government approval to acquire 21st Century Fox's entertainment assets for $71.3 billion, by agreeing to divest Fox's 22 regional sports networks (RSNs) as a part of the deal approval process.

Why it matters: Comcast is expected to again top Disney's bid for the same properties in the coming weeks, but the swift regulatory approval for Disney could make it more appealing for Fox shareholders to favor Disney's bid over Comcast's.

Why regional sports? The Justice Department previously filed a complaint against Disney acquiring Fox's 22 regional sports networks, arguing it would give Disney's ESPN an anti-competitive edge over other sports networks.

How it works: The DOJ has entered into a consent decree with Disney and 21st Century Fox that allows the acquisition to proceed, as long as the deal also involves the sale of Fox's RSNs.

  • Under the consent decree, Disney will have at least 90 days from the date of closing the transaction to complete the sale of the networks, with the possibility that the DOJ can grant extensions for up to another 90 days, according to a statement from Disney.

Swift approval was expected, given the fact that a Disney-Fox merger would be "horizontal" — a merger between two companies in a similar business (content). Experts thought that in this case, a horizontal merger would pose less of an anti-competitive threat than if Fox had engaged in a "vertical" merger, selling its assets to a distribution company, like Comcast.

  • The Justice Department's antitrust chief alluded to a swift approval process last month, when he said the deal was "surgically" cut for approval.
  • Many saw this as a sign to Fox shareholders that the Comcast merger would, as expected, face greater regulatory scrutiny.

The bigger picture: Comcast has been trying to to outbid Disney for the same Fox properties for months, but Fox has been more cautious in its efforts, having previously cited concerns over regulatory approvals.

What's next? Despite regulatory complications, Comcast is expected to submit yet another bid to top Disney's $38 per share offer in the coming days.

  • Sources say that Comcast's new bid would likely hit the low to mid $40s per share range.
  • It will then be up to Fox's stakeholders to determine how much higher Comcast's bid would need to be in order to risk a more complicated regulatory process to get that bid approved.

Go deeper

Scoop: U.S. begins denying Afghan immigrants

Afghan refugees on a bus bound for temporary housing after arriving in Greece. Photo: Byron Smith/Getty Images

The Biden administration has begun issuing denials to Afghans seeking to emigrate to the United States through the humanitarian parole process, after a system that typically processes 2,000 applications annually has been flooded with more than 30,000.

Why it matters: Afghans face steeper odds and longer processes for escaping to the U.S., despite the earlier sweeping efforts by the Biden administration to assist its allies. Immigration lawyers and advocacy groups say the government has set untenable barriers to a safe haven in the U.S.

55 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Dems invoke Robert Byrd to sell Manchin on Senate rules changes

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photos: Diana Walker, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A small group of Senate Democrats is privately invoking the legacy of late West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd in an effort to sway Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to support their plans to change the chamber's rules, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Manchin — who holds Byrd's Senate seat — has often referenced his predecessor's strong moral conviction and insistence on preserving the Senate as an institution, as justification for some of his tough positions.

House votes to ban imports from Xinjiang over forced labor concerns

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The House voted 428-1 on Wednesday to pass a bill that would ban all imports from the Chinese region of Xinjiang unless the U.S. government determines that the products were not made with forced labor.

Why it matters: Both the Trump and Biden administrations, as well as several foreign parliaments, have recognized China's repression of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang as genocide.