Rakuten Buys Viber For $900 Million

rakuten Hiroshi Mikitani

Rakuten CEO Hiroshi Mikitani Jay Yarow/Business Insider

Rakuten offers services from financing to shopping to online video on its e-commerce platform, the largest in Japan. But in the face of a shrinking population and weak consumer spending at home, Mikitani is trying to re-invent Rakuten as a one-stop-site for a global audience.

“This acquisition… will take Rakuten to a different level,” said Mikitani, who is also the company’s chief executive. The all-cash deal was announced after Rakuten reported an 80 percent jump in its 2013 operating profit.

Viber is one of the top five most downloaded smartphone phone call and messaging apps, and counts the United States, Russia and Australia among its biggest markets.

A plethora of messaging apps, including the likes of Viber, are seeking to capitalize on the appeal of their free services, especially in emerging markets.

Viber recently launched an instant messaging app for personal computers that allows users to make outgoing mobile calls to other Viber users and non-registered mobiles, making it a rival to Skype.

SHOPPING SPREE

The company puts a premium on its ability to communicate with customers. Last year, Mikitani told Reuters this personal touch will give Rakuten the edge over rivals like eBay Inc and Amazon.com Inc in Europe, where recession-hit retailers are struggling to tempt clients to spend.

The company has acquired e-commerce providers from Brazil to Germany, as well as Toronto-based eReader business Kobo and online video providers Wuaki.tv of Spain and Viki of Singapore. In 2012, it made a large investment in website Pinterest.

In the 12 months ended December 31, Rakuten’s operating profit jumped 80 percent to 90.2 billion yen ($882.89 million), marking a sixth consecutive year of record earnings, though lagging the average 99.9 billion yen projected by 18 analysts polled by Thomson Reuters Starmine.

(Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim; Writing by Miral Fahmy; Editing by Ryan Woo)

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