Maybe Skype won't turn out to be such a bad purchase by eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY ) after all. The popular Web-based voice chat application is teaming up with News Corp.'s (NYSE: NWS ) MySpace to offer free telephone calls through MySpace's existing IM platform.
Sure, Skype's gotten a bad rap lately, as eBay takes a $1.4 billion charge to write down part of its investment. However, Skype remains the fastest-growing verb in eBay's arsenal. eBay may be slow in monetizing Skype's traffic, but that certainly doesn't make it a failure.
The new offering will allow any of the 110 million registered MySpace users to voice-chat with approved friends. They can also pay a low rate to reach friends on their landlines or cell phones when they are not online.
That last feature will be the one to watch. Skype skyrocketed -- make that Skyperocketed -- in popularity when it offered free domestic calls to regular phones in 2006. That ended this year. eBay continues to post healthy gains at Skype, but one has to wonder if the tollbooths are keeping the application from truly disrupting telcos like AT&T (NYSE: T ) and VOIP players like Vonage (NYSE: VG ) .
The deal with MySpace won't do that, though it may attract a new audience of young users to the proven simplicity of Skype. Come to think of it, the new feature may also make users more selective when approving future friend requests. Parents may also begin to fret about the paper-trail-free nature of voice chat.
So why is this really a smart move, again? Oh, that's right; it's about Skype broadening its audience. It's about teaching a young audience that you don't need a wired phone plan or even a cell phone to stay in touch with your friends.
No, I don't think that the Research In Motions (Nasdaq: RIMM ) and Nokias (NYSE: NOK ) of the world will be too worried about this. However, it doesn't pay to dismiss the viral nature of a social network like MySpace. Once one person is hooked on something like Skype-powered voice chat, it can become pretty contagious.
One revenue-sharing deal isn't enough to shake the notion that eBay overpaid for Skype. It's a good start, though.
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