Disney wins Chinese approval for Fox deal, clearing major hurdle

LOS ANGELES — The Walt Disney Co. said Monday that Chinese regulators had unconditionally approved its purchase of 21st Century Fox assets, pushing the $71.3 billion deal closer to completion.

Disney is still awaiting regulatory approval from a handful of countries, which a spokeswoman declined to identify. But none are as important as China — a crucial growth market for Disney, given its swelling middle class. Furthermore, analysts had worried that the Disney deal could become collateral damage in the trade war, as China was looking for ways to retaliate against the United States.

China’s approval of the deal is particularly notable because it came without conditions. European regulators cleared Disney’s acquisition of most of 21st Century Fox this month, but that agreement required Disney to sell its European stake in A&E Networks, which includes the History and Lifetime cable channels.

U.S. antitrust officials gave their approval with remarkable speed in June, with the stipulation that Disney divest Fox’s 22 regional sports networks, including the New York Yankees’ YES channel. Disney began taking bids this month. Analysts have valued the chain at roughly $20 billion.

Disney’s takeover of most of 21st Century Fox was initially expected to be completed by June of next year. On an earnings-related conference call with analysts on Nov. 8, however, Robert Iger, Disney’s chief executive, said he expected the deal to close “meaningfully earlier.”

Disney is buying the Fox television studio, which has more than 30 series in production, and the 20th Century Fox movie studio, which controls the “X-Men” and “Avatar” franchises. Also coming to Disney will be the cable networks FX and National Geographic; a controlling stake in Hulu, which has more than 20 million subscribers; and Star, a fast-growing media company in India.

Disney, which owns ABC and ESPN, hopes 21st Century Fox will supercharge its plans for two Netflix-style streaming services. Disney’s first major streaming effort, ESPN Plus, arrived in the spring. A second offering, Disney Plus, built around the company’s Disney, Marvel, Lucasfilm and Pixar brands, will roll out late next year. Rounding out its streaming portfolio will be Hulu, an established service with ABC shows and critical hits like “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Not included in the acquisition: Fox News, the Fox broadcast network and FS1 sports cable channel.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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