Another exciting day for Triller, the short-video app which seems to attract controversy at every turn.
First, a new cash injection. Triller’s quest to go public has been a winding path: having announced the intention to go public via a once-popular ‘SPAC’ merger, it announced in June that those plans had changed, and that it was now aiming for a September IPO instead, in a Spotify-style direct listing. The Wrap has now reported that the IPO should happen before the end of this year, and that Triller has secured $200 million in financing in the form of convertible debt, with a target valuation of $3 billion. That’s significantly less than the $5bn target valuation that was touted with the proposed ‘SPAC’ merger, although of course the market as a whole has dipped significantly. (In early 2021, Triller claimed that its was worth $10bn.)
While we may primarily think of Triller as a short-video “TikTok competitor” app, it operates across a number of areas. This includes Triller Fight Club, a live-event platform, and a number of acquisitions – including live-video service Verzuz, fighting streaming platform FITE TV, AI marketing platform Amplify.ai, and others – stretch its focus wider. Some of the entertainment from these areas are bundled in packages that are fairly innovative: the “TrillerVerz 5” event featured boxing matches, as well as rap battles, and appearances from artists like Cypress Hill.
Triller has now raised a total of $400m. “Given past controversies around the company’s public statements on user figures, there will be plenty of interest in its S-1 filing and/or prospectus,” was Music Ally’s thoughts about any upcoming IPO at the start of July; the IPO filing was a confidential one and we’re still keen to see its contents.
Which brings us to the second Triller story of the day: Sony filed a lawsuit yesterday claiming that Triller has not only failed to make “monthly payments […] totaling millions of dollars,” but has also continued to provide Sony’s music catalogue for use on the platform, despite SME terminating their deal on August 8th.
Billboard reported that Sony is suing for copyright infringement and seeking damages, as well as requesting an injunction to stop Triller from using its recordings. It’s not the first time a major label has made big public moves amid claims of non-payment: in early 2021, UMG pulled its entire catalogue from the app, claiming that Triller “shamefully withheld payments owed to our artists and refuses to negotiate a license going forward”; eventually a new deal was struck and the music returned to the platform.
The lack of payment to Sony, if true, would be puzzling, considering the new injection of $200m, and that sources in The Wrap’s article claim that Triller’s businesses “generate $120 million in revenue and is on track for a run rate of $250 million in 2023.” Moreover, Triller is still snapping up companies: yesterday it announced the acquisition of Bare Knuckle Fight Championship.
Controversy around payment is a recurring story with Triller: in November 2021, Triller said it was launching “the largest ever one-time commitment of capital to Black creators,” in the shape of contracts worth a total of $14 million to 300 content creators. Earlier this month, a Washington Post article claimed that dozens of those influencers “are struggling to get paid.” This summer, claims emerged that some of the fighters from a recent event, including champion boxer Sergey Kovalev, had not been paid (Triller later fully paid Kovalev.) Just two weeks ago, Swizz Beatz and Timbaland announced they were suing Triller over missing Verzuz payments; Triller said it hoped it was “just a misunderstanding.”
So what happens next? History suggests that a new licensing deal with Sony may arrive soon enough; and the IPO seems to be on track for a Q4 offering. But with Triller the only safe prediction is: what happens next will be extremely interesting, and it may not go the way we expect.