A battle to buy pan-European television broadcaster Sky is set for a rare auction to determine final rival bids by Comcast and 21st Century Fox, a UK watchdog ruled Thursday.
An auction lasting a maximum of three rounds will take place Saturday, the Takeover Panel announced in a statement, should the US media giants not table final offers by late Friday.
"The auction procedure will consist of a maximum of three rounds which will all take place on 22 September," the watchdog said in a statement.
Following the auction, Sky and its shareholders will have to decide the winning bid.
Cable giant Comcast recently raised its offer for satellite-TV group Sky to £26 billion ($34.3 billion, 29.3 billion euros), shortly after Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox hiked its own offer to value the prized company at £24.5 billion.
The drawn-out pursuit comes as traditional media giants are looking to beef up their creative offerings to compete with Netflix and other streaming services.
Comcast is meanwhile seen as favourite to win Sky after it dropped out of a bidding war with Disney for film and television operations of 21st Century Fox.
Comcast itself has said it would now focus on acquiring Sky.
However 21st Century Fox is still in the running after the UK government cleared the way for Murdoch's group to take full control of Sky having agreed to address media plurality concerns.
Fox's long-running pursuit of the 61-percent of Sky it does not own had been plagued by government concerns also over broadcasting standards -- and the influence of Australian-born US citizen Murdoch.
Critics argued that allowing Murdoch -- who owns major British newspaper titles The Times and The Sun -- to have also full control of Sky News would hand him too much influence in the UK news business.
To remedy this, Fox has proposed to sell the rolling TV news channel to Disney should it win full control of Sky.
Sky's jewel in the crown is its live coverage of English Premier League football, while the company provides also broadband internet and telephone services.
© 2018 AFP