Kevin O’Leary on why he needs to purchase TikTok

A view shows the office of TikTok after the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill that would give TikTok’s Chinese owner ByteDance about six months to divest the U.S. assets of the short-video app or face a ban, in Culver City, California, March 13, 2024. 

Mike Blake | Reuters

Kevin O’Leary is putting together a syndicate for a potential purchase of TikTok, with a starting bid of $20 billion to $30 billion — an up to 90% cut in valuation from the company’s last funding round.

Any deal for the short video-sharing platform — valued at $220 billion in 2023, according to PitchBook data — will likely exclude the user preference-based algorithms that have helped make it so successful, the O’Leary Ventures Chairman said on CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia.”  

“It’s the largest entertainment and business network in America as it stands today, so it’s of great interest and great value,” he said on Friday.

But it is not likely that the Chinese government will sell the algorithms, “so what you’re getting is the valuable domestic brand TikTok and 170 million users, with no data,” O’Leary said.

A potential buyer will have to “re-emulate” those algorithms with U.S. code and act as a “steward” to transform the platform from “TikTok China to TikTok U.S.A.”  Hence the valuation cut.

Earlier in March, the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of a bill that would force TikTok-owner ByteDance to either divest its flagship global app or face an effective ban. However, it could take months before any TikTok-related legislation hits the floor in the Senate.

It also remains unclear if the Chinese government will permit ByteDance to sell TikTok to a U.S. buyer. The company has lobbied furiously against the bill.

Still, O’Leary said there’s at least a 50% chance of a ban and a forced sale of the social media giant early next year after the U.S. presidential election, and he is preparing for that possibility.

Any potential deal would need the blessing of the White House given its national security implications. O’Leary said that he has already discussed the matter with Republican presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump and plans to meet Joe Biden who is seeking a second term. 

The O’Leary Ventures Chairman also said that he was in talks with other parties interested in joining the buyout syndicate, and that he would solicit sovereign wealth funds from April. 

Separately, former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin has also shown interest in purchasing TikTok.

“This is the most complex deal ever in social media, and I have to build a new algorithm,” O’Leary said. “It’s a very interesting deal, and I like it.” 

TikTok did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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