With negotiations for the sale of Skype to its original founders having collapsed, the US-based online auction company eBay now plans to divest the internet telephony services firm through an initial public offering for Skype in the first half of 2010, while remaining a "significant" shareholder.
Skype's founders, Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis, made a bid to buy back the company this week, (See: eBay looking to sell Skype to original owners: report), but eBay board members shot down the sale for the moment, saying that it would not fetch a realistic price in the current global economic situation.
With the IPO a year away, CEO John Donahoe said that if the company receives a good offer for Skype, it will evaluate the offer against the expected IPO faring.
With Ebay's e-commerce business and electronic payments facilitator PayPal doing well, eBay acquired Skype for $2.6 billion in 2005 during the tenure of its former CEO Meg Whitman, expecting the internet telephony firm to be an added jewel in eBay's operations.
Incidentally, Whitman has announced her candidature for the governorship of California as a Republican candidate.
However, though Skype by itself did well, it hardly added any significant value for eBay even after after four years.
Moreover, Skype's founders Zennstrom and Friis are turning the heat on eBay to sell Skype back to them and have refused to licence their Global Index technology to eBay any longer. Without this technology Skype would just become shell without the softare engine to drive it.
Earlier, Zennstrom and Friis used to licence this technology to Skype through a company they own called Joltid.
But now with their refusal to licence this anymore, eBay has very limited choices - it either abandons the Global Index and creates its own Skype software or pay Joltid a higher fee to relicense its system or accept the best possible buyout offer - which explains why eBay was said to be willing to settle for half the price it bought Skype for.
"Skype is a great stand-alone business with strong fundamentals and accelerating momentum," said John Donahoe. "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 maximising its potential."
"This will give Skype the focus and resources required to continue its growth and effectively compete in online voice and video communications. In addition, separating Skype will allow eBay to focus entirely on our two core growth engines-e-commerce and online payments-and deliver long-term value to our stockholders," he added.
In 2008, Skype generated revenues of $551 million, up 44 per cent from 2007 and registered users reached 405 million by the end of 2008, up 47 per cent from 2007.
The company recently announced that it expects Skype to top $1 billion in revenue in 2011, nearly doubling 2008 revenues.
Most recently, the release of the Skype for iPhone has generated a great response from users with more than one million people having downloaded Skype for iPhone in the first 36 hours after it became available, cataputing Skype to the highest downloaded free iPhone application in more than 40 markets, including the US, UK and Japan.
In just over a week, downloads passed the two-million mark, putting Skype on more than 6 per cent of all iPhones and iPod Touch and adding almost half a million new Skype users.
Industry analysts, however, ask why eBay chose to announce the planned IPO at the height of the recession, when it does not plan to float the issue some time next year.
The value of Skype, analysts estimate is around $1.7 billion and say eBay may get around $2 billion, still short of the $2.6 billion it paid for the company in 2005.