By Kate Holton
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's competition watchdog will give its initial verdict on Rupert Murdoch's bid to buy Sky <SKYB.L> next month, later than expected, due to the vast number of responses it has received on the deal.
Murdoch's $15 billion bid to buy the 61 percent of Sky it does not already own is being watched closely in the United States where Walt Disney Co <DIS.N> is in the lead to acquire much of his Twenty-First Century Fox Inc's <FOXA.O> media empire, including Sky.
Britain's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which has been inundated with submissions from interested parties over the high profile takeover, said on Wednesday it would make its provisional findings public in January rather than the week of Dec. 18.
"It is not unusual for us to update our timetables," a spokeswoman said. "In this case, we have received a large body of evidence – including numerous face-to-face hearings and more than 12,000 submissions - so it is vital that we spend the time to reach an informed and considered provisional view."
The regulator is still due to give its final findings in March, 15 months after Murdoch's Fox agreed in December 2016 to buy the European pay-TV group, reigniting a row over whether the media mogul has too much influence in Britain.
Murdoch failed in a 2011 attempt to buy Sky when a phone-hacking scandal at his News of the World forced him to drop a previous attempt.
Since then he has split his companies into two to separate the newspapers from the TV businesses. Fox said when it agreed the deal it did not foresee any regulatory difficulties but the government has taken a strong line against the takeover.
The media minister, Karen Bradley, asked the regulator in September to examine whether Murdoch had a genuine commitment to broadcasting standards following concerns about the running of his U.S. Fox News network.
Bradley also asked the regulator to scrutinize whether the deal would give him too much influence at the heart of the British media.
Fox anticipates that its deal to buy the remaining shares in Sky will be approved in the first half of 2018. Any deal for Fox would include the remaining stake in Sky, sources have told Reuters.
Analysts and competition lawyers have told Reuters they expect the CMA to continue reviewing the Fox-Sky deal even if a third party makes a bid for Fox.
(Reporting by Kate Holton; Editing by Costas Pitas and Edmund Blair)