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Leaked ByteDance Memo Shows Blockbuster Revenue Projections

Zheping Huang
·3 min read

(Bloomberg) -- As ByteDance Ltd. prepares for a historic initial public offering, an internal memo leaked showing TikTok’s owner aims to grow advertising sales in China 42% and triple the size of its e-commerce business this year.

The internet titan is seeking to increase ad revenue for its China-based businesses including Douyin and Toutiao to 260 billion yuan ($39.8 billion) this year from 183 billion yuan in 2020, according to the memo seen by Bloomberg News. The target excludes short-video sensation TikTok. It’s also aiming for e-commerce gross merchandise value of as much as 600 billion yuan, up from 170 billion yuan last year.

Douyin -- TikTok’s Chinese twin -- is targeting 680 million daily active users, compared with around 610-620 million in March. The targets are preliminary and still subject to change, according to a person familiar with the matter, who declined to be identified discussing internal targets. A ByteDance spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to an email request for comment.

The aggressive targets underscore ByteDance’s intention to take on China’s largest internet companies on their turf. The firm -- whose overall revenue more than doubled to $35 billion last year -- has kicked off preparations for an IPO of some of its main businesses, including Douyin, and is choosing between Hong Kong and U.S. as the listing venue, people familiar with the matter have said. It could raise at least several billion dollars from a listing of the Chinese assets, although the size could still change as deliberations are at an early stage.

If ByteDance hits its sales goal, its Chinese arm will have done in nine years what it took Facebook 13 to achieve, and that excludes TikTok and other businesses abroad. At $40 billion, the nascent ad business would be roughly twice that of YouTube’s.

Founded by Zhang Yiming in 2012, ByteDance has demonstrated the rare ability to create repeated hit services in competition with giants like Tencent Holdings Ltd. and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. His first big success was news aggregator Toutiao, which means “headlines” in Chinese. TikTok became a global phenomenon, while Douyin is leading in China’s domestic market. The 38-year-old founder now ranks among the world’s richest people after ByteDance shares traded in the private market at a valuation of more than $250 billion, people familiar with the dealings have said.

The company last month hired its first chief financial officer -- Chew Shou Zi, who oversaw Xiaomi Corp.’s initial public offering as finance chief more than two years ago. The appointment has fueled speculation over the social media giant’s plans to go public.

Douyin’s ad revenue in the first quarter was roughly 31 billion yuan and may reach 150 billion yuan this year, according to the memo. That compares with the 8.5 billion yuan that closest rival Kuaishou Technology earned from online advertising in the three months ended December.

ByteDance is ramping up its competition with Alibaba, with ad sales from brands and merchants expected to reach at least half that of the larger firm’s this year, the memo showed. E-commerce is likely to overtake gaming to become the No. 1 contributor to its ad revenue this year

(Updates with global ad rankings and chart from the fifth paragraph)

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