When Kevin Mayer left Disney months ago to become TikTok’s CEO, he was not expecting to be the CEO of a company at the centre of a political storm. But since taking control of TikTok, the company has been accused of threatening national security, become the new aim (happily for Huawei) of Trump’s anti-China bashing and is now suing the Trump administration.
For a Disney veteran who had helped Disney acquire Marvel, Lucasfilm and launch Disney+, Mayer has had his fair share of entertainment from his life and job (you get the pun). But last week, all the TikTok drama got a wee bit too much and he decided to quit TikTok. According to him, the reason for his resignation is that the “political environment” has sharply changed since he took on his role. To the layperson that is another way saying I did not sign up for this. But to be fair on Mayer, there is some sense in resigning rather than remaining at the centre of a sensitive political zone that will only continue to heat up.
In addition to Mayer’s dramatic exit, there have been many other major developments since we last wrote about TikTok. One interesting development is the news that Oracle is also bidding to acquire TikTok. Like everyone else you probably were very shocked when Microsoft announced itself as a bidder and Walmart agreed to partner with Microsoft in the bid. And then you felt a false sense of relief when a more common-sense buyer like Twitter showed interest until you remembered Twitter probably don’t have the money and already blew it with Vine. But you never expected Oracle to be interested too. For one Oracle is known as the corporate-focused company very famous for benefiting from the client-server era not as a social-media giant like Facebook. But the commercial value Oracle could get from selling TikTok’s consumer data to Oracle’s corporate customers gives Oracle some valid incentive. Infact, some argue that Oracle’s good relationship with Trump and ability to make the purchase makes Oracle a viable contender to Microsoft. But others argue Oracle is simply a glory hunter whose lack of consumer experience would negatively affect TikTok and benefit TikTok’s rivals like Facebook. Who knew people could be so scathing?
Leaving all these fun digs for a second, we also need to let you know that it is possible that any purchase of TikTok may need to be without the valuable algorithm that enables TikTok to know where you are, your interests and in turn powers TikTok’s “For You” page. The is because China has now added personalised content recommendation algorithms to its list of export-controlled items. Considering that TikTok’s algorithm is TikTok’s main value and it will be backbreaking work to build this core technology from the ground up, any budding TikTok deal has unofficially hit a roadblock. It is expected that Trump will agree to a new 30-day extension (beginning to sound like Brexit haha) to give potential purchasers more time to scramble for a way to make TikTok’s purchase work in a viable manner.
At the moment, all suggested solutions bidders have informed Reuters of are not viable. For one, it’s a not unlikely China can be convinced to let ByteDance sell the algorithm to any US purchaser, neither is it feasible to buy TikTok without the algorithm because that is too risky and is akin to buying a car without the car. The third option of letting the ByteDance retain the algorithm but license it to a new purchaser is also not feasible as it will not allay Trump’s national security concerns or his demand that ByteDance cuts any relationship it has with TikTok in the US.
So while we eagerly await news of Trump’s extension to the November deadline or a dashingly brilliant compromise, we must feel sorry for TikTok’s lawyers and their bidders who are trying to figure out where we go on from here. There is already the complexity of splitting up TikTok across regional lines and now the added complexity of China’s export-control. For lawyers who are not TikTok’s lawyers, we guess there is the role of part praying your client never ends up like TikTok. There is also the part trying to figure out how to accelerate your client’s development of two-track Sino-American corporate strategy and making recommendations to your client of how to act now to reduce costs that could result from having to choose sides or breaking their business if it ever comes to that nuclear option.
As always, for Tom, Dick and Harry they are probably hoping everyone sorts this saga out so that their US cousins, Margaret, Abigail and Aimee can get to keep their TikTok’s accounts. They nevertheless part wonder if a post-sale TikTok (like a MicroMart Tok or OracleTok) will be a shadow of the former TikTok given all the turbulence now and the gains Facebook are planning to make against TikTok with Reels.