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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Real estate mogul Frank McCourt readying U.S. TikTok bid

By Shona Ghosh and Ed Ludlow Bloomberg

Frank McCourt, a real estate mogul with ambitions to improve the web, said he plans to build a consortium to bid for social media app TikTok’s U.S. business.

McCourt, a former owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers and executive chairman of investment firm McCourt Global, is an unlikely contender for the ByteDance Ltd.-owned app. TikTok’s U.S. assets were valued at $35 billion to $40 billion by Bloomberg Intelligence analysts.

President Joe Biden’s decision to force TikTok’s Chinese parent to sell the U.S. app or face a ban, via a law signed this year as part of a more hawkish stance toward China, has inspired a diverse cast of characters to talk up potential bids. Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said he was “very interested” in the app, and Eric Schmidt, the former Google chief executive officer has said he also considered a bid in the past.

ByteDance, which is challenging the U.S. law in court, has said it has no intention of selling the asset.

It’s too early to know what price TikTok will fetch or if it will be sold, McCourt said in an interview Wednesday on Bloomberg TV. He said he has not spoken with TikTok or ByteDance but that “other actors” had encouraged him to move forward.

“This is early in a process,” he said. “It’s still very noisy.”

McCourt also said that he is not interested in TikTok’s underlying algorithm, the proprietary code that makes the app so effective at predicting what kinds of videos its users want to see.

“We’re not interested in the algorithm,” McCourt said. “We’re interested in an alternative web where people own and control their data, own and control their identity.”

McCourt, who sold the Dodgers for about $2 billion in 2012, has more recently been trying to rebuild social media through an initiative called Project Liberty. The group, publicly announced in 2021, aims to take on Meta Platforms Inc. and other internet giants. McCourt has given $500 million to the effort to date, the group said this year.

“We see this potential acquisition as an incredible opportunity to catalyze an alternative to the current tech model that has colonized the internet,” McCourt said in a statement on Wednesday. The goal would be to migrate TikTok to an open-source protocol, and give U.S. users more control over their information.

It isn’t clear that the project has secured any financing. McCourt said possible sources of funding include private capital, pension funds, endowments, foundations and philanthropies. Describing the effort to buy TikTok as “the people’s bid,” McCourt is working with investment bank Guggenheim Securities, legal firm Kirkland & Ellis, and a number of academics and technologists, the statement said. The bid is also supported by Tim Berners-Lee, who created the World Wide Web.

TikTok did not respond to a request for comment.