Kevin Mayer had what could arguably be described as the best job in America when 2020 began. He was the head of Disney+, the wildly successful streaming service from the largest media company on the planet. He had previously helped shepherd Disney's acquisitions of Pixar and Marvel. He was one of the most important people at the company and had been considered a candidate for the top job until he was passed over for another executive when Bob Iger announced he was stepping down in February.
Then, Mayer left for what would quickly become the worst job in America: CEO of TikTok. Honestly, I don't even think that's up for debate. Sure, the video app is wildly popular and has experienced incredible growth. It might look, on the surface, like a great gig. The only problem is that the company sits in the line of fire of the Trump administration and its war on everything associated with China.
Now, Mayer is leaving, just as an eclectic mix of buyers are circling around the company. Of course, the only reason any of this is happening is that President Trump has put TikTok on the clock to find an American owner or face a ban here in the U.S. In return the company has sued, saying the move is based on politics, not national security concerns.
It isn't hard to imagine why Mayer is leaving. This isn't the job he signed up for. Mayer said as much in an email to company employees:
In recent weeks, as the political environment has sharply changed, I have done significant reflection on what the corporate structural changes will require, and what it means for the global role I signed up for. Against this backdrop, and as we expect to reach a resolution very soon, it is with a heavy heart that I wanted to let you all know that I have decided to leave the company.
While Mayer's departure is unexpected, I don't think anyone would say it's a surprise. At least, not under these circumstances. It's pretty fair to say that TikTok will look very different on the other side of whatever happens next. That's also true of Mayer's now-vacated job, which started as an opportunity to lead a global business but would now likely feel like a step backward, with the CEO probably reporting to an executive within a giant tech company.
What is a surprise, however, is the growing list of companies that are apparently interested in acquiring TikTok. That list now includes Microsoft, Twitter, Oracle, and ... Walmart. That's right, the Bentonville, Arkansas, retail giant announced it is partnering with Microsoft in a joint bid for TikTok.
This seems strange until you look past all of the political drama and think about what TikTok really is: a platform with a growing audience, reams of data about that audience, and vast untapped potential.
A lot of that potential lies in TikTok's secret sauce, an algorithm that is far better at serving up exactly the type of content users are most interested in than any other social media network. That algorithm is also a powerful advertising tool, especially for social commerce, which involves influencers promoting products that users can purchase directly in the app.
That's exactly the kind of thing you could imagine a company like Walmart being interested in, especially as it competes against e-commerce giant Amazon for more of our online shopping. For a company like Walmart, which isn't exactly known as a hip, trendy, Gen-Z focused brand, TikTok could be an effective way to tap that audience. Maybe it's not so surprising after all.