How serious is this Twitter sales effort? According to sources we’ve spoken to, it’s more of a soft outreach and inbound than a formal one for both Twitter and any possible suitors, which is how most of these things start.
As a fiduciary duty, the board of Twitter must consider the options and is doing so, although informally. And possible buyers also have to check in, largely because Twitter is one of the few interesting and impactful digital platforms around. It might be limping, but it’s not lame (see Yahoo for that). And its mass of data, advertising potential, mobile video opportunity and real-time news capabilities make it a must-look.
Last week, Recode posted an extensive list of possible buyers of Twitter and the reasons pro and con, since the noise around the company’s possible sale has gotten so deafening.
Our argument was that Twitter was clearly prepping for a possible sale, despite all their protestations to the contrary, because it has not been able to grow independently and its persistent tinkering with its product has not worked. Simply put, a slowing advertising base and stalled user growth means that serious sale options need to be considered.
Today, the cacophony was upped dramatically when CNBC’s David Faber, who is the most expert of banker whisperers, reported that the sale discussions had indeed escalated with board buy-in and that Salesforce and Google were among the potential bidders.
This board direction has been clear for a while, with co-founder Evan Williams even indicating that publicly recently that directors were considering all options. And both Google and Salesforce were on our list too, along with Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, big media (Disney, News Corp/Fox), big pipes (Comcast, Verizon) and private equity. Every one of the buyers had great — though different —reasons for doing so, even if there is a lot of hair on every single possible purchase.
One company we left off was Snapchat, which is an intriguing concept, since it would marry a communications hotshot with a unique broadcast platform. Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey have known each other for a long time and were once close, although Snapchat has not yet made any splashy acquisitions, and certainly none that would come even close to Twitter’s price tag.
IBM was left off, too, but could be intriguing thanks to its focus on major data efforts.
But for how much? While we estimated an $18 billion price tag based on the recent sale of LinkedIn to Microsoft, two sources said Twitter was looking for much more to sell. The number? At least $30 billion.
Yikes. That could knock Salesforce out, although it made a serious run at LinkedIn which went for $26 billion a few months back. (That said Salesforce’s market cap is just under $50 billion, lower today by 5 percent due to the Twitter rumors, meaning Wall Street no likey).
In contrast, Google has plenty of money to spare, even if it does not have the desire to buy all that regulatory and trolling trouble. It’s also not clear how interested Alphabet CEO Larry Page is in the idea.
Still, the Google buy seems the most likely, given how much both sides would benefit. As Kurt wrote: “There’s a good reason Google’s name always tops this list: It makes the most sense! Google has the money — Alphabet generated more revenue last quarter alone ($21 billion) than Twitter is actually worth. And while the company has tried its hand at social media before (I think we can all now agree that Google+ has been a minus), Twitter would give it a legitimate social platform to tie in with YouTube, which is now feeling heat from Facebook and Snapchat, which are very social. Could Google make good use of Twitter properties like Vine and Periscope by coupling them in some kind of media hybrid offering with YouTube? Maybe!”
Remember, Google also kicked the tires on LinkedIn before its sale to Microsoft. So maybe there’s more appetite for a social play than we once thought.
But good ideas do not acquisitions make, and Twitter is the digital equivalent of a jewel wrapped in a very gnarly hairball. As one former exec there told us recently: "Twitter is the most invaluable company that no one really wants to buy."
That’s not true. At this point, the question is when and how. If it suffers another weak quarter, as most expect it to, a sale seems inevitable.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.