Ebay may have decided that Skype was not an asset worth keeping — selling, in 2009, two-thirds of the company it paid more than $3 billion to acquire in 2005. But apparently some other big Internet hitters — namely Facebook and Google (NSDQ: GOOG) — think otherwise.
According to a report in Reuters, Facebook and Google are both eyeing up joint ventures with the Internet calling giant, and might even consider buying the company outright.
Rumors linking Facebook with Skype have been swirling for some time already. Officially, the two already work together, via a cooperative agreement that lets Skype users call their Facebook friends from within Skype’s phone client, and lets them see their Facebook news feeds in their Skype news feeds — but so far that deal has not extended into the golden, 500-million user opportunity of offering Skype voice and video calls from within Facebook.
In the meantime, Facebook has appeared undecided about how it wants to approach voice services from within its portal. Last week, it asked T-Mobile to take down its Bobsled service, which lets users make voice calls via Facebook’s chat window. The reason given: it looked too much like a service being offered by Facebook itself, when in fact it was one of the many apps created based on Facebook’s APIs.
Clearly, there is a huge opportunity in Facebook providing voice services, as a complement to what it already does online and in mobile. Voice, and voice-related services, could be added to the many other features that Facebook offers to users (and to developers building apps on Facebook’s APIs) to keep them engaged in its network. Facebook’s moves in mobile — from official apps to unofficial “Facebook phones” — are an even more obvious place for voice services to exist. Skype itself has made strong inroads into mobile voice, both with its own apps and in partnership with operators like Verizon Wireless.
As the Reuters (NYSE: TRI) report points out, a deal with Skype could also open the door to new users in international markets where Facebook has made less of a dent. Skype connected 124 million users every month last year, while Facebook currently has more than 500 million users. One area where Skype may be of little help, however, is in area of monetizing: only around 8 million of those monthly users were paying, says Reuters.
The Google connection to Skype seems less clear: the search giant already has two other voice-related products — Google Voice and Google Talk — and competes against Skype also with its messaging client, Google Chat. If anything, a tie-up there might simply be a defensive move, to make sure Facebook doesn’t go there first.
The report also seems to make a connection between these JV rumors and Skype’s delayed IPO: “When a company is not going public and it has been on file for a long time, one way or another something is going to happen,” one source told the site.