Business

Triller Owner Is Reconfiguring Plans to Go Public, Eyeing Late 2021 Listing

Triller App
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Triller app on a smartphone.

Rather than take the expected SPAC route to a public exchange, TrillerNet plans to take funding by a group of private investors before a direct listing on the New York Stock Exchange.

TrillerNet, the owner of the video-sharing app Triller and the Verzuz brand, has shifted its plans to go public and will now take a private investment before a direct listing on the New York Stock Exchange later this year, according to a source familiar with the deal.

TrillerNet already has commitments for $500 million from roughly a dozen of investors at a $5 billion valuation, according to the source. There is currently a target date set for early fourth quarter, but the exact timing of the listing depends on comments received by the SEC regarding Triller’s S-1 filing.

The company had been in deep discussions with special purpose acquisition corporations (SPACs) over the last eight to 12 months, confirms the source. But instead of merging with a SPAC -- a blank check company that raises money through an IPO with the sole purpose of acquiring a private company -- TrillerNet chose to take a direct investment from a group of large investors that have stakes in several of the same SPACs.

This route will give the group of private investors a 20% discount on the company’s valuation, providing TrillerNet with more funding than a SPAC merger at an equal valuation TrillerNet found this option to be preferable to a standard transaction in which SPAC founders would receive additional shares that would have ultimately diluted its equity value by 30%, according to the source. A spokesperson for TrillerNet declined to comment.

A direct listing would end a long-expected play for TrillerNet to trade on a public market. TrillerNet was reportedly close to a merger with an unnamed SPAC in the first months of 2021. In a Feb. 16, 2021, Billboard article, then-CEO Mike Lu claimed the company should be worth $10 billion after a $250 million funding round reported in October 2020 valued the company at $1.25 billion. Triller now claims to have 300 million app downloads to date.

Speculation that TrillerNet would have an IPO grew when Proxima Media Group, the investment company co-founded by former Relativity Media CEO Ryan Kavanaugh and TrillerNet’s majority investor, hired former Universal Music Group executive Tuhin Roy in November 2020 to make Triller’s operational standards “consistent with a publicly-traded company,” Roy told Billboard at the time.

Like the better-known TikTok, Triller allows users to create short-form videos backed by licensed music. Faced with a competitive space that includes Facebook’s TikTok clone, Instagram Reels, and Dubsmash, acquired by Reddit in 2020, the company lured some high-profile creators, including Charli D’Amelio and her family on a non-exclusive basis, as well as TikTok star Josh Richards, who also became an investor. Triller also hired two TikTok executives to lead its partnerships, Daniel Gillick and Mary Rahmani.

TrillerNet has meanwhile built a stable of video content focused on live events. Verzuz charges $29.99 a month or $299.99 a year for TrillerPass, a bundle of premium content from Verzuz, the DJ battle series it acquired in March 2021, and non-music content such Fight Club, a boxing and Big3, the Ice Cube-created three-on-three professional basketball league; and other live events. A large investment would allow TrillerNet to continue its high-growth trajectory by acquiring additional content.

TrillerNet attracted controversy in 2020 for inflating public user numbers, a claim the company denied while stating “there is no legal definition” of monthly active users or daily active users. “Triller’s value is in monetizing users, not MAU or DAU” because Triller encourages its users to interact with its content off the platform, not strictly inside the app as is common with social media apps, Lu told Billboard in a statement on Feb. 17. Record labels and music publishers had publicly feuded with Triller -- Universal Music Group pulled its catalog in February 2021 -- before resolving their disputes and signing licensing deals.

Investor interest in music extends well beyond hyper-valued publishing catalogs. Two music companies are expected to be acquired by SPACs in the coming months: music streaming service Anghami and Reservoir Holdings, owner of music publisher Reservoir Media. Vivid Seats, a secondary ticketing marketplace whose net revenue fell 76% in 2020, plans to be acquired by a SPAC at a $2.1 billion valuation. Music streaming company Trebel, which claims to have 3 million users, is selling equity at a $150 million valuation to private investors.