Comcast, the cable giant and owner of NBCUniversal, is in preliminary talks to buy entertainment assets owned by 21st Century Fox, including a vast overseas television distribution business, the Fox movie studio, the FX cable network and a group of regional sports channels.
Under the deal being discussed, the Murdoch family, which controls 21st Century Fox, would retain the Fox News cable network, certain sports holdings, a chain of local television stations and the Fox broadcast network.
The talks, first reported by The Wall Street Journal on Thursday, were confirmed by two people briefed on the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private negotiations.
A spokeswoman for 21st Century Fox did not respond to requests for comment. A Comcast spokeswoman declined to comment.
Following news of the talks, shares of 21st Century Fox rose 7 percent in after-hours trading. Comcast shares increased 1 percent.
Until last week, most analysts believed that the Murdochs had no interest in selling any component of 21st Century Fox. In fact, attention recently has focused on their efforts to make it larger: James Murdoch, the chief executive of 21st Century Fox, has been trying to gain regulatory approval to buy control of Sky, the European satellite behemoth.
But certain 21st Century Fox holdings became in play on Nov. 6, when acquisition talks with Disney were disclosed. Disney was also interested in buying the company’s overseas assets — along with the minority stake that 21st Century already owns in Sky, there is the sprawling Star India television and digital business — and certain operations in the United States, including the Fox movie studio, which includes Fox Searchlight, and a share of Hulu, the streaming service.
Disney and Fox are no longer talking, although discussions could restart.
Verizon had expressed preliminary interest, according to people briefed on the matter, though one of them added that the company is not currently interested in pursuing a deal.
This is all happening as the traditional media industry scrambles to contend with a struggling film business and sputtering cable networks, which have been buffeted by viewership declines and faster-than-expected subscriber erosion. At the same time, streaming services like Netflix are surging worldwide and technology giants like Apple have arrived in Hollywood.
To compete, big players like the Walt Disney Company and Comcast have been looking to get even bigger. (Disney recently paid $2.5 billion for BamTech, a video streaming company, and said it would introduce a pair of Netflix-style streaming services.) Small conglomerates like Discovery and Scripps Media have sought refuge in each other’s arms.
And medium-size companies like 21st Century Fox have started to realize — or accept — that gaining the scale they need to compete may be out of reach at this point. Time Warner opted to sell itself to AT&T for $85 billion last year in a deal that is under regulatory scrutiny.
Comcast spent about $17 billion in 2013 for control of NBCUniversal, which owns Universal Pictures, NBC, theme parks and cable networks like USA, Syfy and Bravo. In 2016, Comcast spent $3.8 billion for DreamWorks Animation, where franchises include “Shrek.”
The overseas operations of 21st Century Fox would be most interesting to Comcast, analysts said, but other assets would also complement NBCUniversal’s holdings, including adding a nature channel, National Geographic, and movie properties that could fuel its theme parks.