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- TikTok parent company ByteDance is reportedly just days away from closing a deal to sell off its US operations, thwarting the Trump administration’s threats to issue a nationwide ban.
- In the few weeks since a TikTok acquisition was first rumored, a wide realm of companies and firms have been linked to the deal as interested buyers in a stake of the app’s US business — including Netflix, Twitter, Apple, and Alphabet.
- There appear to be two groups that have emerged as frontrunners in the bidding war: a joint offer between Microsoft and Walmart that’s backed by ByteDance’s CEO, and another from Oracle that has the support of President Trump and a group of ByteDance’s US investors.
- These are all the names that have been linked to the TikTok deal, valued between $20 billion and $50 billion. We’ve included details about how an acquisition would benefit their businesses, and how serious their interests appear to be.
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Who are they: A trillion-dollar company specializing in software and cloud computing — and one of the only US Big Tech companies not featured in Congress’ recent hearings on tech antitrust practices. The company’s notable acquisitions include Minecraft (2014, $2.5 billion), LinkedIn (2016, $26.2 billion), and GitHub (2018, $7.5 billion).
What could they get out of buying TikTok: Reports have indicated that a deal could see TikTok transition its platform over to Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing service (TikTok currently uses Google’s cloud service), securing the viral app as one of the tech company’s biggest clients. The deal could also be a way for Microsoft to strengthen its consumer business and likeability factor with younger generations, analysts told Business Insider.
What do we know about the deal: Microsoft has been the bonafide frontrunner in acquisition talks since the end of July, even before news first broke that Trump was considering forcing TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, to sell off its US business.
ByteDance has close connections to Microsoft through CEO Zhang Yiming, who briefly worked at Microsoft years ago and appears to be leading the negotiation. Moreover, TikTok’s global general counsel, Erich Andersen, is a 25-year Microsoft veteran who worked closely with Microsoft president Brad Smith before leaving at the start of 2020.
Microsoft’s deal may also include the participation of Walmart for a minority stake in the app. The retail giant confirmed its interest this week, but it doesn’t seem that its inclusion in a Microsoft deal is guaranteed.
How serious are they: Very serious. Until this week, Microsoft was the only company to confirm it was in discussions with ByteDance. Microsoft has said it’s bidding for TikTok’s operations in the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand — a deal valued between $20 billion and $50 billion. Additionally, recent court documents show that Microsoft had signed in late July a “nonbinding letter of intent” to acquire TikTok’s US operations, showing just how far talks between the two entities have gone.
Who are they: Oracle is one of the largest enterprise software companies in the world, so its interest in TikTok is curious.
What could they get out of buying TikTok: On its face, Oracle’s interest in a consumer brand doesn’t make sense, analysts told Business Insider. Some have weighed the idea that Oracle’s bid is a “headfake” designed to make an acquisition by Microsoft — an Oracle competitor — more difficult and more expensive. But TikTok could also give Oracle access to a trove of big data from users, a potential boon to the company’s cloud service.
What do we know about the deal: Oracle belatedly entered acquisition talks in mid-August, but the company is now considered one of the top-two contenders to acquire a majority stake in TikTok’s business. Oracle appears to have two major entities backing its bid: a group of ByteDance’s US investors and the White House.
The investors, which include Sequoia Capital and General Atlantic, reportedly see Oracle as their best bet to get “a piece of the action” in the TikTok acquisition. Top Oracle executives — cofounder Larry Ellison and CEO Safra Cats — also have close ties to President Trump, which could minimize short-term scrutiny from the US government.
Trump has also spoken out in support for Oracle’s bid, telling reporters he thought Oracle could “handle” TikTok.
How serious are they: Moderately serious. Oracle has not confirmed its interest in acquiring TikTok, but multiple reports this week show the company is a leading candidate to take over TikTok’s US business, with a potential bid of $20 billion, according to The Wrap.
Who are they: A retail giant with a $373 billion market cap that’s emerged as a wildcard in TikTok talks among the vying tech companies.
What could they get out of buying TikTok: Positioning Walmart as the leader in TikTok’s acquisition would be a fraught deal, given the retailer’s inability to provide the app with tech support and cloud services, analysts say. Nonetheless, Walmart’s involvement in any way in the deal would be a huge asset for its e-commerce business, especially as the retail giant competes with Amazon.
Like Microsoft, Walmart could be trying to rebuild its image with younger consumers who love TikTok — and potentially expand its influencer marketing aspirations.
What do we know about the deal: Walmart’s involvement in TikTok negotiations only came to light on Thursday, but it appears the retailer has long looked for a way to get involved in the acquisition. CNBC reports that although Walmart originally proposed a joint bid with Alphabet and SoftBank that had the retailer as the majority stakeholder, the US government shut down the idea in favor of a tech-company-led deal.
Walmart then partnered with Microsoft in its bid for TikTok’s US operations, and is looking to take on a minority stake. Walmart confirmed its involvement with Microsoft to Business Insider.
How serious are they: Walmart’s interest appears serious, given the information that’s come out about its various attempts to get involved in the TikTok acquisition. Walmart is only the second company (after Microsoft) to publicly confirm its involvement in discussions.
Who are they: A social network founded in 2006 whose daily userbase in the US — estimated around 36 million — is less than that of TikTok (which says it has 50 million active users daily in the US).
What could they get out of buying TikTok: Twitter is smaller than the other companies that are reportedly interested in buying TikTok, meaning that an acquisition could immediately boost its profile and value. Even though the network is popular, it’s struggled internally amid an attempted coup to remove Jack Dorsey as CEO.
Twitter has invested before in short-form video, which could pair well with the network’s text-heavy platform. However, Twitter’s foray into that space ultimately failed: After acquiring Vine for $30 million in 2012, Twitter shut down the beloved app at the beginning of 2017.
What do we know about the deal: The Wall Street Journal first reported on August 8 that Twitter had entered into “preliminary” talks with ByteDance to acquire TikTok’s US business. Twitter’s small stature means the company would likely not face the same level of antitrust scrutiny that massive entities like Microsoft or Oracle could potentially face.
With a market capitalization of just over $30 billion, Twitter would need to raise money from investors quickly or find another way to finance a deal for TikTok’s business, which is likely worth tens of billions of dollars.
How serious are they: Twitter’s involvement in a TikTok deal was immediately viewed as a longshot. Although it was more recently reported Twitter is still interested in TikTok, its talks with ByteDance haven’t seemed to progress much further than before.
Who are they: A streaming behemoth with a market cap of $231 billion. Unlike TikTok’s free platform, it runs on a subscription-based model.
What could they get out of buying TikTok: CNBC’s Alex Sherman argues TikTok would bring an advertising-revenue-based platform into Netflix’s folds, allowing the streaming service to continue offering ad-free entertainment.
What do we know about the deal: ByteDance approached Netflix at some point to “gauge its interest in a deal” to acquire its US operations, the Wall Street Journal reported. However, the streaming giant reportedly passed on the invitation to get involved.
How serious are they: Although Netflix CEO Reed Hastings famously said the company’s biggest competition in 2017 was sleep, he called out TikTok this year as a competitor in “internet entertainment.” But reports indicate Netflix showed no interest in getting involved with TikTok, making this collaboration extremely unlikely.
Who are they: A massive tech conglomerate involved in a wide range of businesses, including internet search, ad sales, video-streaming, mobile software, and cloud-based services.
What could they get out of buying TikTok: Alphabet has shown significant interest in investing in the short-form video space to complement its dominant YouTube service. The company was rumored last year to be interested in a TikTok-rival called Firework, and is reportedly working on an in-app, video-sharing feature for YouTube called Shorts to be released later this year.
Additionally, TikTok already runs on Google’s cloud-computing software, making TikTok’s transition away from ByteDance easier.
What do we know about the deal: It appears that Alphabet had once expressed interest in buying part of TikTok’s US business. Bloomberg reported last week Alphabet was weighing a minority stake, purchased through one if its investment firms (GV or CapitalG), but that talks had “fizzled out” since then.
More recently, it was reported Walmart had tried to organize a deal in which the retail giant would have a majority stake in the TikTok business, with Alphabet and investment firm SoftBank buying minority stakes. That partnership, which later fell apart, was reportedly organized by SoftBank COO Marcelo Claure.
How serious are they: Hopes of the company’s involvement were all but completely dashed this week when Sundar Pichai, Google and Alphabet CEO, confirmed with tech reporter Kara Swisher that the company was not in the running to acquire TikTok.
Who are they: A gargantuan consumer tech company, and the world’s most valuable public company, whose tight hold over the operations of its iPhone and other service has led to harsh criticism and antitrust concerns.
What could they get out of buying TikTok: Apple’s motivation for acquiring TikTok’s US business is unclear. Considering Apple’s supply chain for consumer products relies on companies in China, it’s unlikely the iPhone make would want to do anything — like entering a deal being forced by national security concerns pertaining to China — to put its operations there in jeopardy.
What do we know about the deal: Axios reported in early August that Apple “has expressed interest” in the TikTok deal.
How serious are they: Apple quickly denied the report, saying there were “no discussions” and no interest regarding TikTok.
Who are they: A colossal group of social networks that includes Instagram and WhatsApp, in addition to the flagship Facebook app. CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently labeled TikTok a threat to democracy.
What could they get out of buying TikTok: Facebook’s desire to be king of the social networking space is well-known. An acquisition of TikTok would bring another powerful social app into Facebook’s folds, extending the company’s conquest into video.
Facebook did just release Instagram Reels, its feature intended to rival TikTok in the short-form video arena. But TikTok has a head start of more than 100 million users each month.
What do we know about the deal: Before TikTok came to the US in 2018, in its place was a watered-down video-sharing platform called Musical.ly (which ByteDance later acquired and merged into TikTok in the US). Multiple outlets have reported that Facebook tried to buy Musical.ly in late 2016 in an attempt to break into the Chinese market, where Facebook is banned.
Those talks never amounted to anything, but it wouldn’t be surprising to hear that the failed acquisitions contributed to Zuckerberg’s anti-TikTok rhetoric. The Wall Street Journal reported that Zuckerberg stoked fears about TikTok’s ties to China to US lawmakers shortly before they mounted an offensive against the app.
How serious are they: There’s been no indication of Facebook’s interest in the app now named TikTok.
Who are they: A massive investment firm and technology conglomerate based in Japan that ia currently a small investor in ByteDance.
What could they get out of buying TikTok: SoftBank has been behind some of the biggest investments in global startups in recent years, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that the firm wants a piece of the TikTok acquisition. Considering TikTok’s growing popularity, a stake in its US business could prove lucrative for SoftBank.
What do we know about the deal: SoftBank’s interest in TikTok’s US operations has been reported by the Information and CNBC. According to CNBC, SoftBank COO Marcelo Claure tried to form a partnership for a TikTok acquisition involving SoftBank and Alphabet, with Walmart as the majority shareholder. Those discussions don’t appear to still be active.
It’s highly unlikely SoftBank would be a majority stakeholder in a deal, given the Trump administration’s insistence TikTok’s US business is sold to a US company.
How serious are they: SoftBank hasn’t confirmed its interest, but there’s a good chance SoftBank could be one of several ByteDance investors trying to grab a minority stake in the multi-billion-dollar TikTok acquisition.
ByteDance US investors, including Sequoia Capital and General Atlantic.
Who are they: There are a number of US-based investors who poured money into ByteDance when it was founded in 2012. ByteDance was recently given a private valuation of over $100 billion.
What could they get out of buying TikTok: ByteDance’s US investors have likely seen their investments in the Chinese parent company pay off, and wouldn’t hesitate at a chance to get an even bigger share in TikTok’s successful US business.
What do we know about the deal: The investors — namely Sequoia Capital’s Doug Leone and General Atlantic CEO Bill Ford — have reportedly been key advisers to ByteDance CEO Zhang Yiming in orchestrating the TikTok acquisition.
In the apparent bidding war between Microsoft and Oracle, reports indicate that this group of US investors has been pushing ByteDance to choose Oracle. The investors see Oracle’s bid as their bet to get “a piece of the action” in the acquisition of TikTok’s US operations, according to the Wall Street Journal.
However, these investors are also reportedly pushing for a deal most likely to garner full support from the Trump administration. The New York Times reports these investors have acted as intermediaries between the White House and ByteDance (as well as interested buyers). With Oracle executives’ ties to Donald Trump and the president’s vocal support for Oracle’s bid, it seems the investors see this choice as the one most likely to succeed. It doesn’t hurt that the leading partners at Sequoia and General Atlantic have ties to Trump as well.
How serious are they: The Information reported in late July that Sequoia Capital and General Atlantic investors were interested in buying TikTok’s US operations in a takeover, and it’s doubtful they would give up a successful app like TikTok without a fight. Considering they may also have a chance as minority stakeholders in the Microsoft deal, it seems ByteDance investors may benefit no matter who eventually wins the bidding war.
Centricus Asset Management and Triller
Who are they: Triller is a US-based, less-successful competitor to TikTok. Centricus is an investment firm based out of London.
What could they get out of buying TikTok: Both Triller and TikTok exist in the same space of music-based, video-sharing platforms. It’s likely the deal would see the two platforms merged together, combining Triller’s US-based operations and TikTok’s massive userbase.
Centricus has not been linked to ByteDance nor Triller in the past, so it’s unclear what their interest is. It is worth nothing that Centricus is credited with helping SoftBank raise its $100 billion Vision Fund.
What do we know about the deal: Bloomberg reported Friday that Centricus and Triller submitted a joint bid to ByteDance, in which Centricus would be majority shareholder and Triller would get a minority stake. The proposed deal — to acquire TikTok’s assets in the US, Australia, New Zealand, and India (where TikTok is currently banned) — offers $20 billion.
How serious are they: This last-minute deal seems unrealistic, but it’s the only offer to come with existing infrastructure for a short-form video platform like TikTok. Additionally, Triller was last valued at $130 million and Centricus reportedly has just $25 billion in assets — raising the question of where the two entities would get the capital to afford TikTok.
A TikTok spokesperson told Bloomberg that Triller or Centricus buying TikTok was “preposterous.” Another spokesperson said, “What’s Triller?” when asked by Bloomberg to comment on the deal.
The Blackstone Group
Who are they: One of the world’s largest investment firms, with nearly $600 billion in assets.
What could they get out of buying TikTok: As an investment firm, Blackstone could bet on TikTok’s success thus far as a sign grabbing a stake in the platform would be lucrative. But it’s unclear whether Blackstone wants to insert itself in negotiations for an app drawing ire from the Trump administration.
What do we know about the deal: Although details of Blackstone’s interest have not been widely reported, sources told Fox Business that the investment firm had shown “significant interest” in joining onto Microsoft’s bid. Microsoft has previously said it might allow investors to buy minority stakes in the company if the acquisition were to go through.
How serious are they: It’s unclear, given Blackstone had not shown interest before in TikTok or ByteDance.
Disclosure: Mathias Döpfner, CEO of Business Insider’s parent company, Axel Springer, is a Netflix board member.