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How Microsoft’s Bethesda deal echoes Disney’s Star Wars and Marvel buys

September 22, 2020, 2:45 PM UTC

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While Microsoft may have lost out on TikTok, it’s certainly not skimping on the consolation prize.

On Monday, the tech giant announced plans to acquire ZeniMax Media, the company behind well-regarded game maker Bethesda, for $7.5 billion, marking it among the Microsoft’s largest acquisitions ever. With the deal, Microsoft will own some of the most popular franchises in gaming, including Fallout and The Elder Scrolls.

If you’ve been following the TikTok saga, the ZeniMax tie-up makes sense: It’s a way to diversify Microsoft’s revenue further into the consumer realm, as the Bill Gates-founded company has largely grown in the B2B world with offerings including a cloud business that goes head-to-head against Amazon.

And the ZeniMax buy specifically echoes Disney’s acquisitions of Star Wars maker Lucasfilm in 2012 and superhero franchisee Marvel in 2008. Disney+, the House of Mouse’s subscription-based streaming service, has been an enormous success with over 50 million paid subscribers as of April, despite launching just months prior with many more mature competitors in the field. That was in no small part helped by the company’s deep bench of content, with many consumers signing up to watch the Star Wars spinoff The Mandalorian.   

For Microsoft, too, the ZeniMax acquisition is expected to bolster its own subscription gaming service: Xbox Game Pass, which recently surpassed 15 million subscribers. Microsoft, my colleague Jonathan Vanian notes, has been for years “criticized for failing to have as many compelling exclusive titles for its Xbox gaming business as competitors like Nintendo and Sony do for their consoles.” 

But with names like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim or DOOM, Microsoft can certainly play. Whether it can successfully integrate the business is a different story.

NUMBERS ARE FUN! Yesterday, I wrote about the bizarre discrepancies between the ownership structures that ByteDance and Oracle each claimed to be true of the new TikTok Global. Following news that the U.S. had tentatively agreed to a deal in which Oracle and Walmart would take a combined 20% stake in TikTok Global, ByteDance wrote in a statement that it would actually own 80% of the company. Then Oracle asserted that ByteDance would have no part of the deal. 

Which mathematically doesn’t work.

But technically, there’s a way in which both sides are correct—it just involves a lot of gymnastics, and probably doesn’t fulfill the Trump administration’s actual intent. 

Here’s how Oracle’s statement that ByteDance “will have no ownership in TikTok Global” maps out, according to a source with knowledge of the matter: Because TikTok is backed by ByteDance investors (such as its employees and founder Zhang Yiming) rather than ByteDance itself, TikTok Global will not be backed by ByteDance at all. 

Which also means that, by that logic..TikTok, as it is today, was never ByteDance-owned in the first place. For ByteDance, the 80% figure appears to come from tallying the existing investor base, with the new Oracle-Walmart investment considered the non-ByteDance part of the equation.

In short: The divide involves a lot of semantics and reading between the lines. 

Lucinda Shen
Twitter: @shenlucinda


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- ICEYE, a Finish satellite company, raised  $87 million in Series C funding. True Ventures led the round and was joined by investors including OTB Ventures

- Green Monday Holdings, a Hong Kong-based plant-based food company, raised $70 million in funding. TPG’s The Rise Fund and Swire Pacific Limited led the round.

- Immune Regulation, a U.K.-based company focused on immunoinflammatory diseases, raised $40.6 million in Series B funding. Morningside Ventures led the round and was joined by investors including 24Haymarket. 

- TrueLayer, a London-based fintech, raised $25 million from existing investors. Investors have included Tencent, Temasek, Northzone and Anthemis. Read more.

- Papa, a Miami-based senior services provider, raised $18 million for its Series B round. Comcast Ventures led the round and was joined by investors including Canaan, Initialized Capital, Sound Ventures, Pivotal Ventures and Magnify Ventures.

- Marco Financial, a Miami-based financial platform aimed at helping small businesses in Latin America finance their trades to the U.S., raised $26 million in debt and equity. Struck Capital led the equity round and was joined by investors including Antler.

- Manticore Games, a San Mateo, Calif.-based gaming company, raised $15 million in funding. Epic Games led the round.

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- Conjure, a New York-based furniture rental service, raised $9 million in seed funding. Investors included Pillar VC, RiverPark Ventures, and CoVenture.

- daring, a Los Angeles-based maker of plant-based chicken, raised $8 million in Series A funding. Maveron led the round and was joined by investors including GoodFriends.

- Jina AI, a Berlin-based open-source neural search startup, raised $5.4 million in pre-Series A funding. GGV Capital led the round and was joined by investors including and Yunqi Partners.

- DeepCube, a Tel Aviv-based A.I. company, raised $7 million in Series A funding. Awz Ventures led the round and was joined by investors including Koch Disruptive Technologies and Nima Capital.

- RedTeam, an Orlando-based construction management platform for commercial contractors, raised $5 million in funding from JettyCove.

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- Cloud Paper, a Seattle-based maker of tree-free paper products, raised $3 million in seed funding. Greycroft led the round.

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- ABC Financial, backed by Thoma Bravo, acquired Trainerize, a Canada-based platform for on-demand fitness classes. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

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- Iliad offered to acquire Play, a Polish mobile group, for $4.2 billion. Kenbourne Investments and Tollerton Investments agreed to sell a combined 40% stake in the company. Read more.

- Aaptiv, a New York-based mobile fitness startup backed by Insight Partners and the Amazon Alexa Fund, is exploring a potential sale. Read more.

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- Roche has agreed to acquire Inflazome, a Dublin-based developer of treatments for inflammatory conditions, for €380 million ($447 million). Investors in Inflazome included Forbion, Longitude Capital, Novartis and Fountain Healthcare Partners.

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- UiPath, a New York-based robotics startup, is gearing up for a 2021 IPO that could value it at $15 billion, per Reuters. Read more.

- Bentley Systems, an Exton, Pa.-based provider of software for construction projects, plans to raise $215 million in an IPO of 10.8 million shares priced between $19 to $21. It posted revenue of $736.7 million and a loss of $103.1 million in 2019. Siemens Corp. backs the firm. Read more.

- Prelude Therapeutics, a Wilmington, De.-based biotech developing therapies for cancer, plans to raise $150 million in an IPO of 8.3 million shares  priced between $17 to $19. OrbiMed and Baker Brothers back the firm. Read more.

- PMV Pharmaceuticals, a Cranbury, N.J.-based biotech developing therapies for cancer, plans to raise $125 million in an offering of 7.4 million shares priced between $16 to $18. InterWest Venture, OrbiMed Advisors, and Euclidean Capital back the firm. Read more.

- VIA optronics, a Germany-based provider of electronic displays, plans to raise $100 million in an offering of 6.3 million ADSs priced between $15 to $17. Integrated Micro-Electronics backs the firm. Read more.

- Orphazyme, a Danish biotech developing protein therapies for neurodegenerative diseases, plans to raise $100 million in an offering of 7.6 million ADSs priced at $13.13. SunStone Lifescience Ventures backs the firm. Read more.

- Graybug Vision, a Redwood City, Calif.-based biotech developing treatments for ocular diseases, plans to raise $75 million in an offering of 4.7 million shares priced between $15 to $17. Deerfield, Orbimed, and Blackstone Group back the firm. Read more.



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- Jack Creek Investment Corp., a SPAC seeking a food or consumer business, filed to raise $300 million. Read more.

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- Bull Horn Holdings, a SPAC aiming for a sports and entertainment company, plans to raise $75 million. Read more.


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