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Trump plan for new media venture gets investors' thumbs up

Some investors aren't waiting to see if former President Donald Trump's plans for a media company to challenge the likes of Facebook, Twitter and even Disney can actually become reality — they're all in.

Trump said Wednesday that he's launching Trump Media & Technology Group as a rival to the Big Tech companies that have shut him out and denied him the megaphone that was paramount to his national rise. The announcement came nine months after Trump was expelled from social media for his role in inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

Experts were split on how strong a competitor Trump Media & Technology Group can be, but the stock market reacted with exuberance.

TMTG's plan is to become a publicly listed company through a merger with Digital World Acquisition Corp., a type of company whose sole purpose is to acquire a private company and take it public. Shares of Digital World Acquisition quadrupled Thursday in what some might see as validation for Trump, even though there's a ways to go before the merger is completed.

"I'm personally not a Trump supporter, but this could lead to giant media presence," said investor Ryan Joshua Keenan, who put $2,000 into the stock early Thursday morning and had already tripled the money by the early afternoon. "It's been going up ridiculously."

Trump has spoken about launching his own social media site ever since he was barred from Twitter and Facebook. An earlier effort to launch a blog on his existing website was abandoned after the page drew dismal views.

"We live in a world where the Taliban has a huge presence on Twitter, yet your favorite American President has been silenced," he said in a statement. "This is unacceptable."

Trump files class action lawsuits against tech giants 00:23

Conservative voices actually do well on traditional social media. On Wednesday, half of Facebook's 10 top performing link posts were from conservative media, commentators or politicians, according to a daily list compiled by a New York Times technology columnist and an internet studies professor using Facebook's own data.

TMTG has not set its sights low. In addition to the Truth Social app, which is expected to soft-launch next month with a nationwide rollout early next year, the company says it is planning a video-on-demand service dubbed TMTG+ that will feature entertainment programming, news and podcasts.

One slide in a TMTG presentation on its website includes a graphic of TMTG's potential competitors, which range from Facebook and Twitter to Netflix and Disney+ to CNN. The same slide suggests that over the long term TMTG will also become a power in cloud computing and payments and suggests it will go head-to-head with Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Stripe.

TMTG also takes some jabs at Trump's previous favorite social network. Slides accompanying the Truth Social preorders listing in Apple's app store depict a social network that strongly resembles Twitter, right down to short messages and user handles preceded by "@" signs.

The same graphics also feature a user named Jack's Beard, who in one image fumes when an employee pushes back on an order to delete a user and its posts, calling it "kinda an overreach." The Jack's Beard account uses the handle @jack, which is Twitter founder Jack Dorsey's handle on the real Twitter; Dorsey's long scraggly beard has also drawn attention during his congressional appearances over Zoom.

Truth Social's terms of service, meanwhile, bar users from annoying any of the site's employees and from statements that "disparage, tarnish, or otherwise harm, in our opinion, us and/or the Site." It was not immediately clear who the "us" in that statement refers to.

A Trump-branded social media portal would arrive into a crowded space dominated by Big Tech-run portals like Facebook and Twitter. Still, everyday social media users tend to be on multiple platforms at once, so TMTG's offering doesn't have to necessarily peel users from other portals to thrive.

Facebook suspends former President Trump until 2023 03:47

"This network will most likely be most successful in targeting far-right users, the same that left Facebook for 'alternative' social networks like Gab or Parler," said Alexandra Cirone, assistant professor in government at Cornell University.

Trump's new media bid could also compete for viewers on conservative networks such as OANN, Newsmax and Fox News, she said.

With Apple and Google cracking down on apps that violate the companies' content guidelines, Trump's social media app also "could provide a new venue for fake news and extremism," Cirone said.

Ali Mogharabi, senior equity analyst at Morningstar, who covers Twitter, Facebook and other social media companies, said Trump's brand could initially give TMTG a leg up relative to other new social media sites going up against Facebook and other big players.

"Whether that's going to be sustainable in the long run, that's very uncertain," he said.

Mogharabi said next year's mid-term elections could be pivotal in whether the social media platform succeeds.

"A lot of Trump supporters would probably go on there. Even more so in 2024, if Trump actually decides to run for president. Those types of future events could actually attract more users."

For now, the deal is attracting stock traders. Shares of Digital World Acquisition soared $35.34, or 357%, to $45.50, and changed hands more than 475 million times. That compares with average trading volume of about 11 million shares for Twitter, which trade at around $65.

Digital World Acquisition, based in Miami, is a special-purpose acquisition company, or SPAC. Such publicly traded companies are designed to list the shares of a private company more quickly than a traditional initial public offering. In practice, that means the SPAC acquires a private firm and then changes its name and other details to those of the acquired firm.

"It's been many, many months since there's been a SPAC merger greeted with this amount of enthusiasm," said Jay Ritter, a professor at the University of Florida who specializes in initial public offerings.

A protected right? Free speech and social media 06:56

SPACs pay for their acquisitions with cash from its own initial public offering. DWA's September 8 IPO raised $287.5 million, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

DWA said it has raised roughly $293 million in cash, which it will use to grow TMTG's ventures. Among the company's biggest shareholders are several institutional investors, including Lighthouse Investment Partners, D. E. Shaw & Co., and Radcliffe Capital Management, according to an SEC filing. DWA said more details about the deal will be disclosed in upcoming filings.

The enthusiasm from investors came even though the SPAC deal was unusual in several ways. Announcements of such deals typically are accompanied by the actual merger agreement and a presentation to investors full of numbers and data.

In this one, the merger agreement was not there. And the "Company Overview" of TMTG on its website is light on details about its structure and finances.

"I don't know enough to say it's unprecedented, but it's weird. Given a lot of things that happen with Trump are not great with details and formalities, it's perhaps not surprising, but it's not the norm in SPACs," said Michael Ohlrogge, an assistant professor of law at New York University who researches SPACs.

Until the deal is completed, TMTG would not have access to the cash raised by the SPAC. And without additional details from the companies, it's unclear what Trump's role will be and how much he'll be compensated.

The deal has an initial enterprise value, which measures total debts and assets, of $875 million, according to Wednesday's announcement. Experts say it could take up to six months for the deal to close.

Digital World Acqusition is currently run by CEO Patrick Orlando, a Miami-based founder of the Benessere Investment Group. He owns 18% of Digital World's stock, according to a recent regulatory filing.

Orlando has experience taking at least three SPACs public. One company, Yunhong International, had planned to buy a marketer of "carbon neutral" fuel cells and batteries, but a press release issued last month said the deal had been canceled without giving a reason.

Orlando declined to comment about Trump's potential role in the new company to the Associated Press on Thursday, pointing to the public statements, which provide no detail.

The last time Trump ran a publicly traded company, it didn't end up well for investors. His casino company, Trump Entertainment Resorts, lost hundreds of millions of dollars over more than a dozen years and filed for bankruptcy several times, socking shareholders with big losses. Trump fared better. He took in $82 million in fees, salary and bonuses over the same period, according to Fortune magazine.

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