Alphabet Weighed Buying Small TikTok Stake as Part of Group Bid
The logo for ByteDance Ltd.'s TikTok app is arranged for a photograph on a smartphone in Hong Kong, China. (Photographer: Ivan Abreu/Bloomberg)

Alphabet Weighed Buying Small TikTok Stake as Part of Group Bid

Google parent Alphabet Inc. considered participating in a group bid for TikTok, but the effort fizzled in recent days, according to people familiar with the matter.

Several firms discussed forming a consortium to invest in the popular video-sharing app, with Alphabet weighing a minority, non-voting stake through one of its investment arms, said one of the people.

Alphabet didn’t lead the initiative. It isn’t clear which U.S. company did, or why the effort ended. Alphabet has not ruled out participating in future bids, said the person, who asked not to be identified discussing a private matter.

TikTok, owned by China-based ByteDance Ltd., is fielding interest in its operations in the U.S. and a handful of other countries. President Donald Trump recently ordered ByteDance to sell TikTok’s U.S. assets within 90 days, building on an earlier executive order that would prohibit U.S. people and companies from doing business with TikTok effective 45 days from Aug. 6.

Representatives of Alphabet and TikTok declined to comment. ByteDance representatives were not immediately available for comment.

Microsoft Corp. has been in discussions for weeks to buy TikTok’s business in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Other companies have also emerged as potential bidders, including Oracle Corp. and Twitter Inc. It’s unclear how far those discussions have gone. Microsoft is the only company to publicly confirm acquisition talks.

TikTok has emerged as a potent rival to Google’s video-sharing site YouTube, serving as an alternative for creative talent as well as advertising dollars. Google’s parent has multiple investment vehicles, including CapitalG, a private equity arm, which has backed Chinese firms. Google also invests directly off its balance sheet, funding companies such as Magic Leap Inc. and SpaceX.

ByteDance bought the Musical.ly service in 2017 and merged it with TikTok, creating an app with more than 100 million users in the U.S. alone. That deal is being unraveled by U.S. officials who, against a backdrop of escalating tensions between Washington and Beijing, have alleged the Chinese government could gain access to TikTok users’ personal data and pose a national security risk. Now, the company is facing a fast-approaching deadline to reach a deal or risk a shutdown of its American business.

Analysts and bankers have estimated the value of TikTok’s U.S. business at $20 billion to $50 billion, a wide range that reflects the complexity involved in extricating TikTok’s American operations.

Mountain View, California-based Alphabet would need to tread gingerly around U.S. antitrust enforcers. The Justice Department, state attorneys general and Congress are all investigating Google for potential anticompetitive behavior, leading to more scrutiny of its acquisitions. Google’s plan to buy Fitbit, announced in November, is still pending regulatory approval.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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