14
Feb
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Rakuten is often referred to by western media as "the Amazon of Japan." That description seems more and more apt given some of the mega-retailer's recent purchases, including Canadian e-reader company Kobo. Yesterday Rakuten announced that it had purchased Viber, an up-and coming voice-over-IP company with apps on Android, iOS, and Windows, among others, for a whopping $900 million.

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Viber is primarily a Skype competitor, though it also offers text and picture messaging, group chat, and cross-communication between mobile and desktop operating systems. Indeed, the company's dedication to being available on as many platforms and in as many locations as possible seems to have been a major plus - according to TechCrunch, the service has 225 million registered users. Viber offers discounted calls to cell phone numbers and landlines plus in-app purchase "stickers" for basic monetization.

What will Rakuten do with Viber? Presumably the same thing they've done with Kobo: try and use their economic muscle to make Viber viable and profitable. Rakuten seems to have a rather hands-off approach to the companies it acquires, so it's unlikely that regular users will see any drastic changes in the short run, aside from perhaps the addition of "A Rakuten Company" to marketing materials. The Viber Android app itself has been consistently updated since its debut in July of 2011.

TOKYO--(BUSINESS WIRE)--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.

Michael Crider
Michael is a native Texan and a former graphic designer. He's been covering technology in general and Android in particular since 2011. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order.

  • Jack Dunn

    They do well in Western countries too. Play.com is pretty big here in the UK anyway, not sure about the US.

    • Matthew Fry

      Yeah. They're here but they're certainly not as influential as Amazon. They quite frequently have awesome deals so I've used them a bunch.

  • anzensepp1987

    Finally we know who`s responsible for Viber!

  • Rishabh

    Missed the "equivalent to 0.9 Instagrams" reference which has become customary in recent AP articles.

    • http://mrmcpowned.com mrmcpowned

      AP should really keep a table of companies purchased and how many instagrams they translate to.

  • Cheeseball

    Rakuten.com Shopping (formerly Buy.com) is a cool place to get deals on some computer hardware too. Sometimes they're cheaper than NewEgg and you may even snag free shipping.

    • sssgadget

      And credit card information stolen too.

      • abobobilly

        I believe Credit Card info stolen has more to do with the idiocy of the individual using it.

    • Primalxconvoy

      SPAM

  • Fatal1ty_93_RUS

    Is it good or bad for Viber?

  • Primalxconvoy

    "Hands off?" You mean like taking the original kobo ebook reader and then making people sign up to rakuten just to use it to read the books already on the phone?

    Anyway ,Viber is pretty big in Japan, but not as big as Line.