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SoftBank might jump in the race to acquire TikTok India business

SoftBank has held discussions with India’s two largest telecom operators for buying out TikTok India in August.

Image source: Tuchong SoftBank founder and Chief Executive Officer Masayoshi Son speaks during a news conference in Tokyo. Japanese Internet company SoftBank Group Corp., which is struggling to turn around Sprint in the U.S., is reporting a 27 percent drop in profit for the fiscal year ended March 31, compared to the previous year. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, File). Image source: Tuchong

At a time when Indian short-video apps are busy increasing their user base, Japanese conglomerate SoftBank Group is brokering a deal to bring TikTok back to the country where it claimed to have 200 million monthly active users.

A Bloomberg report, citing sources familiar with the matter, said the Japanese conglomerate is looking for local bidders for TikTok’s India assets. SoftBank owns a minority stake in ByteDance, whose two most popular apps, TikTok and Helo, were banned by the Indian government in late June citing breach of user data and privacy concerns.

SoftBank has held discussions with India’s two largest telecom operators–Reliance Jio Infocomm and  Bharti Airtel Ltd–for buying out TikTok India in August, the report said. Although the talk didn’t materialize, the Tokyo-headquartered giant is still exploring options, it added.

In mid-August, it was reported that Reliance, India’s largest conglomerate, was engaged in talks with ByteDance to invest in TikTok’s India business. However, the discussions didn’t reach any positive conclusion on the deal with TikTok, whose India business is estimated to be worth over USD 3 billion. The world’s second-most-populous country has been the biggest driver of TikTok installs, generating 611 million downloads till April.

Owned by the world’s fourth-richest person Mukesh Ambani, Reliance is known to be on the right side of the Indian government, and association with Ambani could have brought TikTok in the good books of the government, besides giving it a lease of life in the South Asian nation.

Soon after India banned TikTok, the US also threatened to ban the app over cybersecurity concerns and has asked it to sell its business to an American company. Apart from the US and India, ByteDance has been considering selling its operations in several countries including Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, among others.

While the USD 80 billion internet firm has sued the US government, it’s also engaged in talks with several American companies, including tech behemoths Microsoft and Oracle, and retailer Walmart to sell its US operations.

Last week, The Information reported that SoftBank was looking to join the TikTok deal in the US. The Masayoshi Son-led company brought in Walmart Inc. as the main investor in a group of bidders, the Bloomberg report said, although the consortium fell apart after the Trump administration insisted a US tech company lead the investment.

While some of the earlier contenders including Twitter and Google have dropped out of the race to acquire TikTok in the US, Walmart has joined a bid led by Microsoft Corp. Bloomberg said, Centricus Asset Management, which is also a frequent adviser to SoftBank, has partnered with Triller Inc. in a bid for TikTok’s operations in the US and several other countries for USD 20 billion.