Centricus’s 11th-Hour Bid Adds Intrigue to Waiting Game on TikTok
(Bloomberg) -- Less than two days after Microsoft Corp. and Oracle Corp. submitted rival bids to China’s ByteDance Ltd. to acquire TikTok’s U.S. business, a dark-horse possible third bidder emerged as the two software makers waited for a response to their offers. On Friday, Centricus Asset Management Ltd. and Triller Inc. made a last-minute pitch to buy TikTok’s operations in several countries for $20 billion, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Centricus and Triller submitted their bid to Beijing-based ByteDance, this person said, for TikTok’s assets in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and India, including $10 billion in cash up front and $10 billion in profit-sharing from the resulting venture, the person said. A representative for Centricus confirmed the company had made an offer, while a TikTok spokeswoman pushed back on that potential deal, calling it “preposterous.”
Under the expectant watch of executives and government officials from Seattle and Silicon Valley to Arkansas and Washington, ByteDance’s decision on which bid to choose — or whether to sell the app’s assets at all — could come as soon as this weekend, a person familiar with that company’s thinking said.
Here’s what we know:
- Two big-tech bidders submitted proposals earlier in the week — Oracle and Microsoft, whose bid is backed by retail giant Walmart Inc. Both suitors are waiting for ByteDance to enter final-stage negotiations with one of them, and then to seek White House approval for a deal. ByteDance may also ask both bidders for revisions before making a decision, according to a person familiar with the matter.
- Walmart is contributing funds to Microsoft’s offer in exchange for a minority stake in TikTok’s U.S. business should that bid succeed, according to two people, who asked not to be named discussing private negotiations. Walmart had previously attempted to join a group of bidders along with Alphabet Inc. and SoftBank Group Corp., but switched to Microsoft when that group opted not to make an offer, the people said.
- While ByteDance is asking about $30 billion for TikTok in the U.S., bidders haven’t been willing to offer that amount, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday, citing people familiar with the negotiations.
- The deal could be complicated by a TikTok seeking to block the Trump administration from banning the app, a move that many of ByteDance’s investors sought to stop. Executives at General Atlantic and Sequoia Capital, two major backers of ByteDance, tried unsuccessfully to dissuade Chief Executive Officer Zhang Yiming from moving forward with the lawsuit, people familiar with the matter said, in part because they were concerned that challenging President Donald Trump could backfire.
- One further potential wrinkle: China's Ministry of Commerce on Friday announced new restrictions on artificial intelligence tech exports, including personalized content recommendations. China's official Xinhua News Agency quoted a trade expert as saying that ByteDance should study the new export list and "seriously and cautiously" consider whether it should halt negotiations.
- On Wednesday, TikTok Chief Executive Officer Kevin Mayer said he was departing the company after less than three months, suggesting a deal is imminent. In an internal memo announcing his exit, he said, “we expect to reach a resolution very soon.”
- There’s a mid-September deadline on Trump’s executive order for TikTok’s U.S. business to be sold to an American company, or he will prohibit U.S. people and companies from doing business with the app. The initial announcement set off a flurry of interest from other companies. A later order requires ByteDance to sell TikTok’s U.S. assets within 90 days. According to Trump’s Aug. 14 order, ByteDance must notify Cfius of the buyer and give the panel an opportunity to review the sale.
- Analysts and bankers have pegged the value of TikTok’s U.S. business anywhere from $20 billion to $50 billion, a wide range that reflects the complexity involved in separating TikTok’s American and global businesses, in determining a reliable number of users, and how revenue breaks out for the markets at stake in the deal.
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