Microsoft weighs TikTok purchase as ad business flattens out

Microsoft theatre is pictured during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Los Angeles, California, US, 15 July 2020.
Microsoft theatre is pictured during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Los Angeles, California, US, 15 July 2020. Reuters

Microsoft Corp could re-energise its advertising business with a huge supply of video if it follows through on acquiring TikTok's US operations from ByteDance.

Reuters reported on Friday, citing a source familiar with the matter, that Microsoft is in exploratory deal talks as the US government prepares to force China-based ByteDance to divest its video app TikTok over data security concerns.

Microsoft generates the bulk of its $143 billion in annual revenue by licensing software such as Windows and Office as well as cloud storage and computing tools through its Azure service.

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The company, with advertising supported businesses including its Bing search engine, MSN news service and LinkedIn business social network, disclosed this month that its search ads sales grew 1 per cent to $7.7 billion over the last year. But that growth was flat when excluding fees it pays to partner websites and apps.

The ad market research company eMarketer has estimated LinkedIn's ad revenue at about $2 billion annually in the United States alone. But Microsoft also said this month LinkedIn ads sales have fallen this year as the novel coronavirus pandemic prompted advertisers to pare spending.

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Social media services, including Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc's YouTube, have seen their sales growth continue during the pandemic as users spend more time entertaining themselves online - particularly with video - and advertisers follow them there.

Without an entertainment service aimed at a broad audience, Microsoft has struggled to capture the increasingly lucrative videos flowing to YouTube, Facebook and more recently TikTok, which widely opened its ad tools this month.

Increased US regulatory scrutiny of potentially anticompetitive behaviour by Facebook and YouTube have likely diminished their ability to purchase a major competitor soon, according to antitrust experts. Microsoft, though, faces fewer constraints.

"Its consumer strategy remains in flux and an aggressive acquisition