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‘Deal of a decade’: How buying TikTok could transform Microsoft

August 25, 2020, 9:30 PM UTC

President Donald Trump has given ByteDance until mid-September to find a buyer for its U.S. TikTok business, calling the social media platform a security threat.

TikTok announced Saturday it will sue the Trump administration to prevent the forced sale. But in the meantime suitors like, Oracle and Twitter, have already held preliminary talks to purchase TikTok. But it’s Microsoft, which is working on a deal, that is the clear favorite.

Unlike other tech conglomerates, the Redmond, WA-based software company is known more for its B2B sales than consumer businesses. So why would Microsoft want TikTok? To find out Fortune scoured analyst reports and teamed up with SurveyMonkey to poll 2,478 U.S. adults between August 17 and 18* to find out more about their attitudes towards social media and usage patterns.

TikTok + LinkedIn would make Microsoft a social media giant

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TikTok is adding users at a clip that far outpaces most social media platforms. However, with only 11% of U.S. adults using the app, according to Fortune‘s poll, it is still very behind its competition. The platforms with the most users are Facebook (65%) and Facebook-owned Instagram (35%). However, TikTok’s internal numbers show a much higher usage rate, and some of that discrepancy could be explained by the fact that much of its user base are under the age of 18 so would not be reached in Fortune‘s polling.

But for Microsoft, if TikTok were paired with LinkedIn, which has 20% of U.S. adults using the platform, the company would have the footing to compete in the world of social media against top dog Facebook. Microsoft purchased LinkedIn in 2016 for $26.2 billion.

Adding TikTok would make Microsoft a major player in the digital ad business, which currently has 70% of market share going to Google, Facebook, and Amazon, according to eMarketer.

“Microsoft buying TikTok and these US operations would resolve the security issues with this app and also give Redmond a crown jewel on the consumer social media front at a time that other FAANG peers (Facebook, Alphabet) are under massive regulatory scrutiny with anti-trust concerns swirling and cannot go near the TikTok asset,” Dan Ives, managing director of equity research at Wedbush Securities, wrote in an August assessment of Microsoft. Interestingly, when asked about a proposed sale, 50% of the public say they disapprove of a forced TikTok sale.

TikTok would give Microsoft an in with Gen Z

Among 18 to 24 year-olds, only 17% use Microsoft-owned LinkedIn. For TikTok, that number is more than double at 42%. Only Instagram (82%), Twitter (46%), and Facebook (46%) have a greater reach with young adults.

Adding TikTok would not only improve Microsoft’s social media reach with Gen Zers, but it would help the company make a bigger consumer play in the years to come.

Big bet would diversify Microsoft’s business

Around 90% of Microsoft’s $1.6 trillion current valuation can be attributed to its enterprise cloud strategy, including Azure and Office 365, according to Wedbush. Acquiring TikTok would help Microsoft diversify its business and find new areas for growth.

“Its consumer strategy remains in flux and an aggressive acquisition (or strategic investment) of TikTok would be Microsoft throwing its hat in the ring and trying to compete with other tech giants such as Facebook in a new avenue of growth for the next decade for its consumer business,” Ives wrote in his August assessment of Microsoft. “We believe from a management and Board perspective this is a unique deal of a decade opportunity with a price tag that could easily be consummated.”

Simply put: Adding TikTok alongside its Xbox and LinkedIn, would represent an aggressive bet to move the B2B company closer with consumers.

“Its hard to argue with any bet MSFT has made over the last five years, although the missing piece in the puzzle has been a consumer trojan horse strategy which TikTok can fill along with a re-rating/sum-of-the-parts valuation,” Ives wrote.

Antitrust pushback locks Facebook out of TikTok race

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Facebook (48%) and Amazon (31%) have the highest percentage of U.S. adults calling for them to be investigated for antitrust, according to a Fortune and SurveyMonkey polled 1,276 U.S. adults between June 25 and 26. Among the country’s five largest tech firms, Microsoft has the lowest percentage of U.S. adults calling for it be investigated for antitrust (20%) or to be broken-up (12%).

And last month when the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google all went to Congress to testify before the House Antitrust Subcommittee, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was not asked to join.

This all indicates Microsoft doesn’t face the same antitrust concerns as other Big Tech firms and can move forward with a bid. Meanwhile social media titan Facebook, which would have been a natural landing spot for TikTok, has to sit on the sidelines.

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