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E-Commerce Giant Rakuten Buys Viber Messaging App for $900M

Japanese e-commerce interest Rakuten has acquired messaging app Viber for $900M, to expand its services to messaging and expand into new markets.
Posted at 9:34 AM, Feb 14, 2014

Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten is plunking down $900 million for mobile messaging app Viber.

The deal would bring Viber's 300 million users under Rakuten's customer umbrella, giving it growth opportunities in developing regions of the globe where its online shopping, travel and banking services don't currently reach. (Via The Wall Street Journal)

As Rakuten CEO Hiroshi Mikitani told Re/code, "This is a no-brainer. Messaging apps are taking over the world and … what is happening in communications is very, very important."

Viber provides multimedia messaging to other Viber users, without requiring a traditional phone plan — calls, texts and photo messages are free over Wi-Fi, or use a customer's wireless data plan.

A writer for GigaOM suspects Rakuten has improvements in mind for the service.

"It appears Viber will add a communications dimension to Rakuten's expanding digital portfolio. Viber users can no doubt look forward to having new services dangled in front of them. Rakuten has a philosophy that it calls 'Shopping is Entertainment.'"

And competing in the messaging marketplace means tying its apps into every other facet of its business.

An analyst who talked to Bloomberg drew parallels to WeChat, a similar app in China that has nearly 300 million users of its own. "You just need to look at WeChat. It's creeping into every part of Chinese commerce, this WeChat app, and Viber will probably do the same type of thing."

The Viber deal is just the latest in Rakuten’s expansion efforts. In recent years, the company has acquired Kobo and its ebook hardware, video streaming service Viki, and a stake in Pinterest.