Internet telephony and messaging company Viber, which has 15 million registered users in India and 300 million registered users internationally, has been acquired by Japanese membership-based Internet services company Rakuten for $900 million. Rakuten said in its earnings presentation that Viber has 105 million monthly active users globally and that the deal will be closed by March. Interestingly, Viber has already launched new stickers welcoming its new overlords.
In a statement that sounds like we’ve heard it before, Rakuten said that it will integrate Viber’s messaging system into “its existing services to create a unified social and communication platform”. It is also looking at the acquisition of Viber as a way of expanding its reach to new markets, especially emerging markets where Viber has a huge install base. A substantial number of Viber users, 31.2%, are in Asia, while 24% of its users are in Western Europe. Middle East accounts for 12.3% of its user base and South America comprises 9.8%. Viber app currently receives 550,000 signs ups everyday.
The Japanese company’s co-founder and CEO Hiroshi Mikitan said that the decision to acquire Viber a no-brainer and added that “messaging apps are taking over the world”. Frankly, we see Viber more as a calling service than a messaging service.
It needs to be noted that eBay had bought Skype for more than $2 billion in 2005, and then sold the majority of its stake in 2009 to a private investment group for $1.2 billion. The only difference between 2005 and now is the popularity of smartphones. Microsoft bought Skype in 2011 for around $8.5 billion.
Rakuten reported revenues of $5.09 billion and net profit of $427 million for 2013, with more than half of the revenue coming from its Internet finance business. The company has 90 million users for its services in Japan and 60 million around the world, of which 18 million are users of the Canadian e-reader Kobo (which it acquired in 2012).
Competition in India
Apart from Skype, which hasn’t disclosed its India user base, Viber’s primary competitor in India would be Nimbuzz, which claims it has 25 million active users in India, and is apparently used for making P2P calls. On the messaging side, the market is led by WhatsApp, which crossed 30 million monthly active users in India. Other competitors in messaging include Line, WeChat, Hike, Facebook, Rocketalk, Mig33, Imsy, Gupshup Messenger, JaxtrSMS, ChatON (Samsung), Pinch (Affle), among others, and maybe even Blackberry’s BBM service.