Wow – 24 hours can certainly a long time in TikTok Land at the moment.
Shortly after TikTok announced its new ‘We’re Not Going Anywhere’ t-shirts and hoodies yesterday, recently appointed CEO Kevin Mayer resigned from the company, while reports today also suggest that US retail giant Walmart has taken an interest in potentially acquiring part of the app.
The rate of change at the video platform must be difficult to fathom for those on the inside – here’s an overview of the latest TikTok news updates as negotiations continue over the sale of its US business.
Kevin Mayer Resigns
The biggest news out of TikTok is the resignation of newly appointed global CEO Kevin Mayer, who only took on the new role back in May.
As first reported by The Financial Times, Mayer sent a memo to colleagues yesterday informing them of his decision, which he says is related to forced changes to the job he initially signed up for as global CEO of TikTok.
As per Mayer’s note:
“In recent weeks, as the political environment has sharply changed, I have done significant reflection on what the corporate structural changes will require, and what it means for the global role I signed up for. Against this backdrop, and as we expect to reach a resolution very soon, it is with a heavy heart that I wanted to let you all know that I have decided to leave the company.”
Mayer, essentially, explained that the changes will mean that he can’t really be the ‘global’ CEO of the company, as the platform will be split into regions.
“I understand that the role that I signed up for – including running TikTok globally – will look very different as a result of the US administration’s action to push for a sell off of the US business.”
Which makes some sense, but you would also assume that Mayer has felt some hesitation in continuing as the face of TikTok as it’s become entangled in global trade negotiations, pitting the US and China against each other.
If the situation goes south – say, if China decides to retaliate by banning other US businesses, or seeks some other form of retribution – that could be a significant concern, while Mayer might also want to avoid becoming the face of a company taking on the Trump Administration in court over its actions.
There are various reasons why the former Disney exec might want out – but the stated point, that his role, in the end, will not be what he originally signed on for, is logical enough for Mayer to make an exit.
In the interim, TikTok’s current general manager Vanessa Pappas will take on the CEO role, which will no doubt be re-assessed once the takeover process is complete.
Incredibly proud and humbled to take the role of interim head of TikTok. Our community and our team who work so hard to enable this product continue to inspire me. It’s truly amazing what we’ve accomplished in 2 years, I have no doubt what we can accomplish in this next chapter!
— Vanessa Pappas (@v_ness) August 27, 2020
Pappas, a former YouTube executive, has been with TikTok since ByteDance bought out musical.ly, and has become a key leader for the platform during its rise. Pappas has also been on the front foot of late in defending the platform, so she’s essentially become the face of the app’s leadership anyway, arguably more so than Mayer, at least in a public sense.
It was Pappas who appeared in a video to reassure users shortly after the US Government issued its Executive Order forcing the app’s sale in the US, while Pappas has also fronted the media on several occasions to defend the app.
She seems like the logical choice to lead to company to the next stage – which could be coming very soon.
TikTok to Be Sold in a Matter of Days
While negotiations are ongoing, CNBC has today reported that the sale of TikTok to a US bidder or consortium is expected to be announced “in the coming days”, and is expected to be in the $20b to $30b price range.
As explained by CNBC:
“TikTok is nearing an agreement to sell its US, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand operations in a deal that could be announced as soon as next week, sources say.”
CNBC says that TikTok hasn’t yet decided on which suitor to go with, but Microsoft and a consortium bid, which includes cloud computing giant Oracle, are the leading two candidates. That could mean that TikTok will indeed be split into regional ownership clusters, which could become complex.
Yesterday, we reported that the UK was leaning towards implementing new restrictions on TikTok, as opposed to a ban. Based on this latest report, TikTok would remain part of ByteDance in the UK – but would that mean different rules and enforcement efforts, and even different features within each version and sector?
It sounds messy – and also worth noting, ByteDance founder and CEO Zhang Yiming noted in his statement regarding Mayer’s departure that the company is in negotiations to get TikTok back into India. Which would also, theoretically, remain under ByteDance control, according to this update.
How it might all work is difficult to contemplate, and it will also depend, to some degree, on which takeover bid ByteDance finally goes with.
Which has also become more complex in recent days.
Walmart Expresses Interest
Yes, US retail giant Walmart has also reportedly expressed an interest in acquiring the short form video platform, which would likely see Walmart joining Microsoft’s bid for the platform, if indeed it does look to make a push.
As reported by Axios:
“[Walmart’s pitch] would be to help turn TikTok U.S. into more of an e-commerce app for creators and users, much like what TikTok parent company ByteDance does with a similar app in China.”
Indeed, the Chinese version of TikTok, called ‘Douyin’, now generates significant revenue via eCommerce integrations.
Douyin reportedly brought in over $122 million in revenue last year, mostly via eCommerce – which is more than 2x what TikTok generated. Following the same path, TikTok has also been working to integrate eCommerce functionality, which will actually be key in sustaining the app’s ongoing growth.
If TikTok can’t provide clear avenues towards monetization for its top creators, they’ll just migrate to other platforms where they can make money – which is what happened to Vine in the end. As such, TikTok actually needs this, and when considered in that scope, partnering with Walmart actually makes a lot of sense.
There’s not much to go on at this stage, but it appears that Walmart could indeed now be part of the leading bid.
Though the bid itself may no longer be the front runner for the app.
Oracle Bid Takes the Lead
And in the final key bit of TikTok news for the day, The Wrap has reported that the Oracle-lead consortium has now become the preferred bidder for the app, with the deal offering significant incentives to parent company ByteDance.
As per The Wrap:
“The proposed deal would comprise $10 billion in cash, $10 billion in Oracle stock and 50% of annual TikTok profit to flow back to TikTok’s China-based parent company, ByteDance, for two years, according to one individual with knowledge of the deal.”
That seems like a risky proposal, and maybe one that the US administration would not approve of, given that it involves handing stock in a US company over to Chinese ownership. But it’s hard to know how much the Trump Administration is actually opposed to such – the main risk here is largely tied to returning 50% of the platform’s revenue back to ByteDance.
In some ways, that would be beneficial for the new ownership group, in that ByteDance would then have additional incentive for advising and assisting the transition, but it could also mean that the new owners risk not getting much return for their massive investment for some time.
And that might not come at all – while TikTok has seen massive growth, there are no guarantees that it will win out, with Facebook pushing hard to blunt its growth, and other platforms, like YouTube, also working to steal its audience.
$20 billion, and 50% of income for years is a big bet on the app’s future. Which, if you’re going to spend so much, makes sense. But I don’t know that such a deal will end up working out as hoped.
Again, there’s a lot happening in TikTok Land, a lot of moving parts, but indications are that we’re nearing the end, and we’ll have a better idea of the app’s future soon.
Then we can get back to other concerns – like TikTok’s exploitation of young people, another concern for its potential new owners to keep in mind.