TikTok Rival Triller Said to Explore Deal to Go Public

Triller, a budding competitor to popular short-video app TikTok, is in discussions with blank-check acquisition companies about a merger which would take the US social media company public, according to people familiar with the matter.

The deal would come as Triller seeks to capitalise on TikTok’s woes. US President Donald Trump’s administration has ordered TikTok’s Chinese parent ByteDance to divest the app, citing concerns that the data of US citizens could be accessible to China’s Communist Party government. TikTok has sued the US government to stave off a ban from US app stores while deal negotiations continue.

Triller, which was launched in 2015 and only has a fraction of the 100 million users that TikTok boasts in the United States, has said it hopes that the uncertainty over its rival’s future will drive more influencers and users to its platform.

Triller is working with investment bank Farvahar Partners as it negotiates a potential deal with a so-called special purpose acquisition companies (SPAC), the sources said. A SPAC is a shell company that raises money in an initial public offering (IPO) to merge with a privately held company which then becomes publicly traded as a result.

Triller’s SPAC negotiations are happening alongside discussions with investors about a private fundraising round, led by investment bank UBS Group AG, in which the Los Angeles-based company is seeking to raise around $250 million (roughly Rs. 1,828 crores), the sources said.

Triller has so far secured around $100 million (roughly Rs. 731 crores) in that round at a $1.25 billion (roughly Rs. 9,140 crores) valuation, according to the sources. It is deliberating whether to proceed with the private fundraising or opt for the deal with a SPAC, one of the sources added.

The sources cautioned that no deal is certain and asked not to be identified because the negotiations are confidential.

Farvahar Partners and UBS did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

SPACs have emerged as a popular IPO alternative for companies this year, providing a path to going public with less regulatory scrutiny and more certainty over the valuation that will be attained and funds that will be raised. US SPACs have raised $53.8 billion (roughly Rs. 3,93,412 crores) so far in 2020 through IPOs, more than the total raised in the prior seven years, according to industry tracker SPAC Research.

Triller said earlier this year it had 65 million monthly active users on its short video app, although many analytics companies have said they have not been provided enough access to independently verify Triller’s figures.

Triller’s celebrity users include musicians Alicia Keys, Cardi B and Eminem, and its financial backers include Kendrick Lamar and The Weeknd.

Triller is owned by media industry veteran Ryan Kavanaugh and healthcare executive Bobby Sarnevesht. Kavanaugh in 2004 founded US film studio Relativity Media, whose films included the award-winning The Fighter. The studio ended up filing for bankruptcy twice, in 2015 and 2018.

Sarnevesht was a partner at Bay Area Surgical Management, which lost a $37.4 million (roughly Rs. 273 crores) legal battle against Aetna after the health insurance firm alleged in 2012 that it had been defrauded by the surgery centers operator.

Bid for TikTok

Triller sued TikTok in July, alleging it infringed its patent for stitching together multiple music videos with a single audio track.

In August, Triller said it had partnered with investment firm Centricus Asset Management in a bid for TikTok. ByteDance, however, said it was not engaged in such discussions.

Trump last month said he had given his preliminary blessing to a deal that would give a 20 percent stake in TikTok to computer networking conglomerate Oracle and retail giant Walmart. The negotiations subsequently stalled, as ByteDance maintained it would keep an 80 percent stake in TikTok, rather than distribute it to its investors.

TikTok is widely popular with US teenagers, though its advertising business is still nascent. Major companies, including Procter & Gamble, Danone and Chipotle Mexican Grill told Reuters last week they would keep spending on advertising with TikTok despite the uncertainty over its future.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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