Ebay announced today that it plans an initial public offering for Skype in 2010. This at least makes it unequivocally clear that Ebay is looking to divest itself of the internet voice phenomenon. CEO John Donahue effectively admitted that they never should have bought it in the first place with this quote:
But it’s clear that Skype has limited synergies with eBay and PayPal. We believe operating Skype as a stand-alone publicly traded company is the best path for maximizing its potential.
In other words, it used to be a standalone company and it still ought to be a standalone company, Ebay paid far too much based on synergies that just weren’t there and never will be. But an IPO? I seriously doubt it will get that far.
With Zennstrom and Friis nosing around, looking to pay cash for it, this can really only be seen as a negotiating move. Ebay apparently doesn’t like the price being offered, which according to reports is around $1B versus a hoped for $1.8B. So they are threatening to walk – claiming it can get more elsewhere. But of course, they can’t get $1.8B now with the markets in the toilet, so they are talking of 2010 and not mentioning an actual date.
Are they bluffing? Will they really go ahead with an IPO? I suppose Ebay doesn’t lose much by going through the motions. They relieve the pressure on them to do something with Skype by making this announcement, now it’s just about price. And if the economy and the markets *do* improve by Christmas, then it could actually work. So how much do Zennstrom and Friis really want their baby back? I sense their interest may be for real, but coming up with extra money right now probably isn’t easy.
In the meantime, I wonder if other suitors for Skype may begin to turn up. I think the prospect of Skype on the iPhone and other mobile platforms will be making many adjust their strategies this summer.
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