ResearchThe Weekly (3/15)

The Weekly (3/15)

Mar 15, 2024

It’s not often that we see members of Congress agree on issues but it looks like they may have finally found some common ground. 

Earlier this week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill barring app stores and internet providers from distributing “foreign-adversary-controlled applications”. Who could that be? It’s TikTok, of course.

Of course, the bill still has to pass through the Senate and the White House, and there’s plenty of reasons why it may not be approved: freedom of speech and anticompetitive practices likely sitting at the top of the list.

We’ll leave the issues of legality up to the folks in Washington but it has us wondering about some of the downstream impacts of a changing social and advertising environment. 

We view there to be three primary paths forward for ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company: shut down operations, merge with an American tech company, or spin off as a standalone business.

Although it’s unlikely that the company would wind down operations altogether, it’s not out of the realm of possibilities for at least a short period of time. If advertisers were forced to shift their spending away from TikTok, America’s homegrown social-media companies would be in for a windfall. 

That’s not to say all of those American tech giants would benefit equally, though. According to Kepios, a research firm, 82% of global TikTokers are on Facebook, 80% scroll Instagram and 78% use YouTube. After that, there’s a steep drop off for ‘the rest’: X, Snapchat, and Reddit, among others. 

If Americans were to redirect the roughly 3 trillion (yes, trillion with a T) minutes of attention they spent on TikTok last year to other apps, Meta and Alphabet, would be the biggest winners. If they inherited more eyeballs, the advertisers would follow. 

The winners in the aforementioned scenario wouldn’t be so lucky in a world that ends in a merger. Meta and Alphabet would surely be blocked by antitrust watch dogs before mounting a bid. 

Others would certainly be interested: Amazon would love to lean into the platform’s recent focus on ecommerce, Microsoft would salivate over the consumer data in their AI push, and Apple is looking for solutions for their slowing iPhone sales. Let’s not forget that Walmart and Oracle already tried to acquire the company in 2022, too. 

If ByteDance isn’t willing to merge with a suitor —or if China does not let it— it brings us to our third scenario: ByteDance could float TikTok as a public company. Who are the winners here? 

Well the bankers to start – it would be one of the most coveted IPOs of the century and the investment banks would clamor to secure the fees associated with listing its shares. In a way, maybe even consumers, too. TikTok injected competition into a world of social media that was dominated by Meta. Six of last year’s ten most-downloaded apps came from Meta, but TikTok beat them for the top spot. 

Competition spurs innovation and consumers are usually the biggest beneficiaries of that trend.

This saga isn’t over – in all likelihood it’s probably just beginning. There will be winners and losers across every scenario and we’re eager to see the final chapter unfold.

Have a great weekend,

– Your Titan team

As of writing, META, AMZN, GOOGL, MSFT, and AAPL are holdings in Titan’s Flagship strategy. ORCL is a holding in Titan’s Offshore strategy. As of writing, X (Twitter) is a 0.92% holding in the ARK Venture Fund.

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