ByteDance in talks with India’s Reliance for investment in TikTok

Chinese giant ByteDance is engaging with India’s Reliance Industries Limited, the parent firm of telecom giant Jio Platforms, for financially backing TikTok in a move to potentially save the popular video app’s fate in its biggest market by users, two people familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

The two companies began conversations late last month and have yet to reach a deal, the sources said, requesting anonymity as the talks are private. TikTok’s business in India, where it had amassed over 200 million users before it was banned in late June, is being valued at more than $3 billion, one of the sources said.

ByteDance did not respond to a request for comment. Reliance said it does not comment on speculation and rumor.

An investment in TikTok could help the oil-to-retails giant Reliance, the most valuable firm in India, make deeper connections with consumers. Even as Jio Platforms has amassed nearly 400 million users in India in less than four years of its existence, its consumer-facing apps have struggled to replicate that appeal.

Since late April this year, the Indian giant’s digital venture has raised about $20 billion from 13 high-profile investors, including Facebook and Google. Google said it would work with Jio Platforms to launch a customized version of its Android mobile operating system to power low-cost Android smartphones. Facebook said it would collaborate with Reliance to help digitize the country’s 60 million small and medium-sized businesses.

The preliminary talks between the two companies comes as ByteDance also struggles to retain some key employees in India. A handful of high-level executives at the company, including a policy head and Rohan Mishra, who oversaw ByteDance-owned Helo app’s operations in India, have left the company in recent weeks. Mishra did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday noon.

ByteDance has assured employees that it is in conversation with the Indian government to resolve New Delhi’s concerns and does not plan to layoff employees in the country. ByteDance employs about 2,000 employees in India.

ByteDance is separately engaging to sell the company’s business in select markets, including the U.S. with Microsoft, the Windows-maker confirmed earlier this month. Financial Times reported last week that the two companies had broadened the scope of the deal to include TikTok’s business in other markets, including Europe and India.

Any deal with Reliance — owned by Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man who is an ally of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi — could help ByteDance allay concerns of the Indian government, which banned TikTok and 58 other apps developed by Chinese firms citing security concerns in late June.

Scores of local startups, including Twitter-backed ShareChat and Times Internet’s Gaana and MX Player, have launched standalone apps or integrated features to replicate the social experience TikTok provided to users. The local apps have claimed to have added tens of million of new users in recent weeks.

Facebook, which launched Reels in Instagram in India last month, has seen the daily engagement across its family of services surge more than 25% since the ban on TikTok, according to a person familiar with the matter.

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