In another aggressive acquisition, Japan’s Rakuten paid $900 million in cash for Viber, a global messaging company. The Cyprus-based Viber is a voice-call application, which is a new and important arena for Rakuten. It gives Rakuten the technology to offer customers the ability to make Internet calls on a range of devices such as smartphones.
It also gives the company an international footprint, since Viber operates in almost 200 countries, the only messaging player with a globally significant presence besides WhatsApp. Others are big, but only regionally, such as Japan’s popular Line or Korea’s KakaoTalk. Viber — which is very voice-oriented — has also been aiming at claiming the Internet communications business from Microsoft-owned Skype.
Line, which now will be Rakuten’s rival in Japan, is likely to go public and has significant revenue as a mobile gaming platform.
Rakuten, which has mostly been a huge e-commerce business, has been increasing its efforts to diversify, from buying e-book reader Kobo to investing in Pinterest to the most recent purchase of premium video service Viki. The company also has an Internet bank, a travel service and even a baseball team.
Here is the full press release:
Rakuten Acquires Viber for $900 million
Rakuten accelerates its digital strategy by entering global messaging and VoIP, reinforces its focus on rapid growth of its global membership and Internet services ecosystem
TOKYO, February 14, 2014 — Rakuten Inc (4755:Tokyo), one of the world’s largest Internet services companies, announced today its acquisition of pioneering messaging and VoIP company, Viber. Rakuten will acquire Viber for a total consideration of $900 million. The acquisition represents another bold step for Rakuten into the digital content space, following its acquisitions of Kobo, Wuaki.tv, and Viki.
As people continue to shift from traditional content and communications platforms to mobile applications, Viber, one of the most popular mobile communications services worldwide with a rapidly growing global user base of 300 million registered users, perfectly complements Rakuten’s strategy in the digital space. As Rakuten aims to become the world’s No.1 Internet services company, this acquisition will enable Rakuten to penetrate new markets with multiple digital content offerings, in combination with its e-commerce and financial services platforms.
With 40 different services, Rakuten has built one of the world’s most robust and dynamic Internet services ecosystems, centered around a unified ID membership database that features the enormously popular and successful online Rakuten Super Points rewards program. Viber’s fun approach to messaging and high quality VoIP services is a perfect marriage with Rakuten’s digital content offerings and its “Shopping is Entertainment” philosophy laying the foundation for the world’s most comprehensive and engaging daily online platform. The combination also unlocks massive new potential markets for Viber through Rakuten Group’s roughly 225 million global members.
Rakuten Chairman and CEO, Hiroshi Mikitani, commented:
“I am tremendously excited to welcome Viber to the Rakuten family. Viber delivers the most consistently high quality and convenient messaging and VoIP experience available. Additionally, Viber has introduced a great sticker market and has tremendous potential as a gaming platform. Simply put, Viber understands how people actually want to engage and have built the only service that truly delivers on all fronts. This makes Viber the ideal total consumer engagement platform for Rakuten as we seek to bring our deep understanding of the consumer to vast new audiences through our dynamic ecosystem of Internet Services.”
Viber CEO and Founder, Talmon Marco, underlined these synergies:
“Rakuten is one of the world’s most important Internet companies. It is truly dominant in its home market of Japan and has been rapidly expanding globally. This combination presents an amazing opportunity for Viber to enhance our rapid user growth in both existing and new markets. Sharing similar aspirations with Rakuten, our vision is to be the world’s No.1 communications platform and our combination with Rakuten is an important step in that direction.”
Viber’s multi-platform application adoption is undeniably impressive. The business has demonstrated significant growth reaching 300 million registered users, growing over 120% in 2013.
Rakuten began its march into global digital content in 2012 with the acquisition of Kobo Inc., one of the world’s fastest-growing eReading services, that now offers 4 million eBooks, magazines and newspapers to customers in 190 countries. In 2012, Rakuten acquired Wuaki.tv, an innovative Europe-based video-on-demand and streaming service, which recently began its international expansion beyond Spain by offering customers in the UK its premier movie titles catalogue and unique hybrid payment model. More recently, in September 2013, Rakuten acquired borderless digital content platform, Viki, which now reaches 65% of its 30 million monthly users through mobile devices.
Goldman, Sachs & Co. acted as sole financial advisor to Viber. White & Case LLP acted as sole legal advisor to Viber.