SoftBank Group Corp. is considering the formation of a consortium of bidders for the Indian properties of TikTok and has actively found local partners, according to people familiar with the matter.
The Japanese conglomerate, which owns a stake in TikTok’s Chinese parent ByteDance Ltd., had talked over the past month with the heads of India’s Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd. and Bharti Airtel Ltd., the people said, asking not to be named because the details are private. SoftBank is still discussing options, according to the people, but negotiations have fizzled since.
TikTok is considering selling its operations in many countries after local governments shut down the service, citing concerns that the Chinese state was transferring confidential user data into its hands. India, a long-standing regional competitor, took an especially aggressive approach, in July banning 59 of China’s largest internet services, including TikTok. The step came less than a month after 20 Indian soldiers died in border clashes amid Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s heightened nationalism. India has been one of the largest markets for TikTok, with over 200 million users.
In the U.S., because of national security issues, President Donald Trump threatened to ban TikTok and then ordered ByteDance to sell its assets in the region.
SoftBank has played an especially active role in negotiations despite having only a small stake in ByteDance. In the U.S., the Japanese corporation took Walmart Inc. into a consortium of bidders that also included Google parent Alphabet Inc. as the key participant. But the partnership fell apart, one of the people said after the Trump administration demanded that a U.S. tech firm lead the investments. Google said this isn’t interesting anymore, while Walmart entered a Microsoft Corp.-led deal.
Masayoshi Son, the founder of SoftBank, has a long history of investment in India, and a deep network of local business ties. Local Son-backed startups include Snapdeal.com e-commerce company, Ola Cabs ride-hailing service, and Oyo Rooms hotel-booking app. SoftBank poured $275 million into eye-care provider Lenskart in December, minting the new unicorn in India. The company is also part of a joint venture with Bharti Enterprises Pvt. and Foxconn Technology Co. of Taiwan on solar power. In 2018, Son helped pave the way for Walmart to enter the country by selling its stake in Flipkart Online Services Pvt Ltd.
Son has been on a spree selling $42 billion of assets, unloading stakes in Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., T-Mobile US Inc., and SoftBank’s domestic telecom unit, SoftBank Corp. Son is also looking to sell or list Arm Ltd., the chip design firm he purchased for $32 billion four years ago.