Microsoft's $8.5 billion acquisition of Skype has been approved by federal regulators. Now comes the challenges of integrating Skype's assets into the Microsoft mothership.
The U.S. Department of Justice has approved Microsoft's
$8.5 billion acquisition of Skype.
Now the fun part begins.
Once the deal is closed, Skype will become a Microsoft
division headed by Skype CEO Tony Bates, with its services meshed with a
variety of Microsoft products such as the Lync unified
communications platform, Outlook, and Xbox Live.
This isn't Skype's first time on the acquisition block. In
2005, eBay paid some $2.6 billion in cash and stock for the then two-year-old
communications company. Four years later, the auction site sold a majority of
its Skype holdings to a team of private investors (including Silver Lake
Partners and Andreessen Horowitz) for $1.9 billion in cash. Microsoft's $8.5
billion represents a substantial markup, but CEO Steve Ballmer and his
executives evidently thought the price was right-especially if the company can
commoditize Skype's services.
"While it's true that Skype has been slow to make money off
its service, the potential is there," Forrester analyst Ted Schadler wrote in a
May 10 blog posting
. "Local phone numbers, three-way video conferencing,
business administration, and making calls to real phone numbers are all things
that people will pay for." It could also boost the consumer appeal of
Microsoft's more business-centric products, notably Lync.
Soon after the deal was originally announced, Ben Horowitz,
co-founder and partner of Andreessen Horowitz, used his blog to trumpet Skype's
ability to repulse "full frontal assaults" from Google and Apple.
Specifically, he cited Google's attempt to market a similar
VOIP (voice-over-IP) offering via its Gmail
service. "What was the result of this effort?" he wrote in that
May 10 posting
. "Skype new users and usage growth has accelerated since
Apple's FaceTime, he added, also failed to blunt Skype's
momentum: "How did that impact Skype's usage on the iPhone? 50 million users
have downloaded Skype's iPhone product since the release of Apple's FaceTime."
But some analysts seemed down on Skype's potential benefits
"Wall Street hated the deal when eBay bought it, and they
only paid 1/4 of what Microsoft is now paying," Roger Kay, founder and
president of Endpoint Technologies Associates, wrote in a May 10 email to
eWEEK. "In eight years, Skype hasn't made any money, and even at the operating
level, it would take three decades to pay out in cash terms alone."
Profitability (or not) aside, Microsoft now faces the
singular challenge of digesting Skype's assets and incorporating them into
products that span the breadth of a massive company-and monetize them in ways
that don't send Skype's built-in audience, so used to paying little-or-nothing
for VoIP and video calling, fleeing for the hills.
At least that's a challenge Microsoft can tackle with
effective management and a whole lot of elegant engineering work. On a more
problematic front, Microsoft will need to find a way to preserve Skype's
immense brand equity-that's a big part of why they paid the $8.5 billion, after
all-amidst that wholesale integration of its assets: big enterprises have an
unnerving habit of acquiring startups and smaller companies, only to smother
everything that made the latter so appealing in the first place. If Microsoft
tarnishes the Skype brand, that would dampen its ability to position itself as
a strong alternative to Apple and Google.
, itself citing unnamed "people familiar with the matter,"
Skype has already started firing senior executives ahead of the Microsoft deal
closing. And surely Microsoft is making its own preparations for bringing Skype
into the family. But in many ways, the biggest challenges are just
Editor's Note: A line of this story has been corrected to state that the U.S. Department of Justice, and not the FTC, approved Microsoft's acquisition of Skype.