What does a middle-aged tech giant want with a teen sensation?
一个中年科技巨头要一款青少年流行应用做什么?

【双语】无生产力谜题 Unproductivity puzzle-书迷号 shumihao.com

ON JULY 29TH the bosses of Alphabet, Amazon, Apple and Facebook endured a five-hour videoconference with a congressional subcommittee on antitrust. Satya Nadella, chief executive of Microsoft, America’s other technology titan, spent the day talking to investors, recruiting new hires and reviewing the latest quarterly numbers. His presence was not required—Microsoft no longer attracts the controversies that bring politicians running.

上月29日,Alphabet、亚马逊、苹果和Facebook的老板与美国国会的反垄断小组委员会开了长达五小时的视频会议。当天,美国另一家科技巨头微软的首席执行官萨提亚·纳德拉(Satya Nadella)忙着游说投资者,招募新员工,检视最新一季的业绩数字。他不需要出席反垄断会议,因为微软已不再引发那类令政客奔忙的争议。

Or does it? On August 2nd the firm said it was in talks to buy the American, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand operations of TikTok, a wildly popular but problematic Chinese-owned video-sharing app. President Donald Trump had mused about banning it over fears that it could hand data on Americans to China’s Communist authorities, despite protestations by its parent company, ByteDance, that it would never do such a thing. After some unusual steps to mollify Mr Trump—including a statement in which it thanked him effusively for his “personal involvement”—Microsoft has until September 15th to hash out a deal.

真是这样吗?8月2日,微软表示正就收购TikTok的美国、加拿大、澳大利亚和新西兰业务展开谈判。TikTok是一款爆红全球但引发了问题的中资视频分享应用。特朗普担心它会把美国人的数据交给中国的共产党政府而考虑禁用它,尽管TikTok的母公司字节跳动已郑重声明绝不会这样做。在用一些不寻常的手段安抚过特朗普(包括在一份声明中热情洋溢地对他的“亲身参与”表达感谢)之后,微软必须在9月15日之前谈妥交易。

Other suitors may cut in. ByteDance’s venture-capital backers, most of whom are American, will try to flush out rival bidders. They are disappointed that ByteDance failed to head off TikTok’s political travails. The Chinese group should have spun off the American unit this spring, keeping a big minority stake, says an investor close to the firm. But the ambition of its founder, Zhang Yiming, led ByteDance mistakenly to calculate that it could muscle through geopolitical tensions, the investor says.

其他求购者可能会插足。字节跳动的风险投资者(大多为美国籍)会设法让竞购对手现身。他们对于字节跳动未能阻止TikTok陷入政治困境感到失望。一位知情的投资者表示,字节跳动本应于今年春天剥离其美国业务,持有比例不低的少数股权,但创始人张一鸣野心太盛,导致字节跳动做出了错误估计,以为公司能在紧张的地缘政治局势中突围。

TikTok’s price could rise if more bidders emerge, but it will still go for far less than ByteDance’s estimation of its value. ByteDance believes TikTok US would have been worth $200bn within a few years. Now it may have to sell the business for between $15bn and $40bn. That would be one of the year’s biggest deals. But once TikTok US, with its 100m or so users in America alone, turns profitable—which it is widely expected to soon—it may look like a bargain.

如果有更多求购者出现,TikTok的价格可能会上升,但仍将远低于字节跳动自己的估计。字节跳动认为TikTok美国业务的价值会在几年内跃升至2000亿美元。但现在它可能不得不以150亿至400亿美元的价格出售该部门。这会是今年最大的收购案之一。但TikTok美国业务仅在美国就约有一亿用户,一旦开始盈利(普遍认为这很快会发生),这笔收购可能会显得非常划算。

TikTok would propel Microsoft into the social-media big league. That may be Mr Nadella’s strategic aim. Google, the main division of Alphabet, is challenging Microsoft in cloud computing and office software. Nabbing TikTok would be a counter-strike against Google’s YouTube, notes Mark Moerdler of Bernstein, a research firm. The app would also give Microsoft a trove of data on young people, putting it on a par with the likes of Snapchat and Facebook’s Instagram.

TikTok将带动微软跻身社交媒体巨头之列。也许这正是纳德拉的战略目标。Alphabet最大的部门谷歌正在云计算和办公软件方面挑战微软的地位。收购TikTok将是对谷歌旗下YouTube的一记反击,研究公司盛博的马克·莫德勒(Mark Moerdler)指出。该应用还将为微软提供有关年轻人的大量数据,使其与Snapchat和Facebook的Instagram等社交平台平起平坐。

At the same time, TikTok is a departure from Microsoft’s core competence of business-productivity tools. The app is unproductivity software par excellence. Microsoft’s gaming business, including the Xbox console, brought in only 8% of its $143bn in revenues in the 12 months to June. The firm has a mixed record with consumer technology. In July it shut Mixer, a live-streaming service for gamers that had failed to gain traction. And with TikTok Mr Nadella may expect an invitation to Big Tech’s next roasting on Capitol Hill. Controversies around TikTok’s content moderation and data protection will keep cropping up.

不过,微软的核心竞争力是一系列商业生产率工具,TikTok却与此相悖。该应用是一款典型的无生产力软件。在截至今年6月的12个月中,微软包括Xbox游戏机在内的游戏业务仅贡献了其1430亿美元收入的8%。微软在消费类技术方面的表现一直起伏不定。7月,它关闭了热度不高的游戏直播服务Mixer。而若是收购了TikTok,纳德拉估计会被邀请到国会山与其他科技巨头一起接受下一轮拷问。TikTok在内容审查和数据保护方面的争议将不断涌现。

The next 40 days will be busy. Microsoft may try to buy more of TikTok than just the four English-speaking markets. But ByteDance will want to keep as much of its global presence as possible, especially with Mr Zhang under fire in China for selling out to the Yankees. The world may end up with two TikToks, one American-run, one controlled by ByteDance.

未来40天会很忙碌。微软可能会争取收购TikTok更多的业务,而不仅仅是四个英语国家的市场。但字节跳动会想要尽量保住自己的全球影响力,尤其是在张一鸣因为把TikTok卖给美国佬而备受国人抨击的情况下。世界上最终可能会有两款TikTok,一款由美国运营,另一款由字节跳动控制。

How an American TikTok would work is unclear. Microsoft would need to replace the app’s Chinese infrastructure, presumably by copying ByteDance’s code and auditing it. If it wants American teenagers to be able to view videos uploaded by Japanese or even British ones, it would have to license them from ByteDance, which may run afoul of Mr Trump. TikTok’s current appeal rests in part on its global assortment. Both versions of the app will be diminished by a split. Instagram’s Reels, a TikTok lookalike launched on August 5th, will try to woo disenchanted TikTokers. For the 45-year-old Microsoft, navigating the Sino-American tech tussle may be the easy part next to keeping teenagers’ attention.  ■

尚不清楚美版TikTok将如何运作。微软将需要替换应用的中方基础架构,想来是通过复制字节跳动的代码并加以审核。如果要让美国年轻人也能观看由日本甚至英国年轻人上传的视频,微软就必须向字节跳动申请许可,而这又可能触怒特朗普。TikTok当前的吸引力部分在于形形色色的全球性内容。一经拆分,两个版本的吸引力都将被削弱。Instagram于8月5日推出了类似TikTok的Reels,将努力吸引幻想破灭的TikTok博主。对45岁的微软来说,在中美科技战中周旋进退可能倒还容易,难的是如何继续抓住青少年的目光。