MediaFile

from Shop Talk:

A suitor for Skype?

(Refiles to correct Donahoe's first name to John.)

TECH TAIWAN SKYPETo sell Skype, or not to sell Skype. That is the question for eBay, and Wall Street has diverging opinions on whether the San Jose company will or won't unload its Internet telephone service.
    
Skype was acquired under the reign of former CEO Meg Whitman (now a California gubernatorial hopeful) and touted as a nifty way for eBay's millions of sellers and buyers to connect. That reality never materialized, and current CEO John Donahoe has acknowledged that synergies between eBay and Skype are nonexistent.
    
Still, Skype is on a tear, growing at double digits and adding 350,000 global users a day. The five-year-old company logged $551 million in revenue in 2008 -- that number is expected to double by 2011 -- and is now a subject of great speculation by analysts, who wonder whether eBay plans to spin it off, or hold it close. 
                              
Cowan and Co's Jim Friedland, for one, thinks it's for sale. Writing in a note the day after eBay held an analyst presentation to outline the company's three-year plan, Friedland said it appeared "eBay was using the Skype discussion to trigger a bidding war between Google and Microsoft."
       
"We believe the asset would be attractive to both Google and Microsoft to enhance their web-based enterprise application services. In addition, Skype's user base of 405 million, which is particularly strong internationally, would likely strengthen Google's dominant position in the consumer web app market."

But Bernstein Research's Jeffrey Lindsay did not see it that way: "We think the dearth of buyers such as Google or Microsoft will mean that eBay is more likely to spin out part of Skype to the public (like Time Warner did initially with Time Warner Cable)."
    
Huh. Donahoe, incidentally, has said only that eBay will do what's best "to maximize Skype's potential and value."
    
Deutsche Bank's Jeetil Patel opined that, since Skype is performing well, "Management should hold on to this business model" and Credit Suisse's Spencer Wang said he did not see eBay rushing to sell.
    
"While we think the company would be open to parting with Skype at the right price (currently valued at $1.8 billion on eBay's balance sheet), a divestiture of Skype does not appear imminent," Wang wrote.

(Photo: Reuters)

YouTube: And the beat no longer goes on — in the UK

It’s Day 2 of YouTube versus PRS For Music, the British organization that collects royalties for songwriters and publishers whenever songs are broadcast over the air and the Web or performed in public venues .

As you may know by now, YouTube started blocking UK visitors from watching professional music videos and users’ videos that feature licensed music. The reason, as usual, is each side said the other guys are being unreasonable in their fee negotiations. YouTube says PRS wants many times more than a previous deal, while PRS says YouTube actually wants to pay less than they currently pay.

There was some signs of progress today when PRS put out a statement:

Talks between PRS for Music and Google took place today to discuss the licensing of YouTube following Google’s sudden decision to block premium video content on the service in the UK.

Yahoo Big as Ever in Japan

Yahoo’s island of strength in Japan looks as impregnable as ever.

In January, Yahoo increased the number of searches performed on its Japanese sites by 13 percent year-over-year, and continued to hold the top spot with a 51.3 percent share of searches conducted in Japan, according to market research firm comScore.

Google, which is the No.1 search firm in the U.S. by a long shot, saw its search share in Japan slip to 38.2 percent, from 39 percent in September. Total searches on Google sites in Japan increased 5 percent year-over-year in January.

Yahoo’s star property in the land of the rising sun is actually a 34 percent stake in a joint venture with Softbank. The Japanese partnership is one of several that Yahoo has forged overseas, such as its deal with China’s Alibaba Group.

Googlers kiss underwater stock options goodbye

No one likes to see their company’s stock drop. But employees and executives at Google were probably not overly distraught to see their stock close Friday at $308.57, down 19 percent since Feb. 9.

That’s because Friday’s close is the price that Google will use to reset employee stock options, according to the terms of its controversial option exchange program. Google announced the plan in January, explaining that 85 percent of its workers’ stock options were underwater, meaning that the price to exercise the option was below the current market price -– a fact which isn’t too surprising, given that Google’s stock peaked at $747.24 in November 2007.

Google is among several companies, including Starbucks and Advanced Micro Devices, that are repricing stock options in order to keep morale in the ranks up and to retain talent that might otherwise be lured by greener pastures. Of course, investors, who don’t enjoy the benefit of repricing the shares they purchased, are less fond of such option exchange programs. And the $400 million charge that Google estimates will be incurred as a result of its option exchange is further salt in the wounds to shareholders.

Let’s dance: Universal, YouTube talk music site

Get ready for Vevo, or whatever YouTube and Universal decide to call their premium online music site.

It’s no sure thing a deal will get done, of course. One source told Reuters that negotiations have “literally” just started and key details, like financial terms, are still undecided.

Still, at first glance, this seems like it could be one of those win-win deals and both sides would probably be smart to work out an arrangement.

Yahoo’s Bartz hearts Google maps

Carol Bartz famously questioned the loyalty of Yahoo employees who dared leak her internal staff memos to the press.

But the CEO confessed to a lapse in loyalty of her own, on Tuesday, when it comes to one of Yahoo’s products.

“I don’t use Yahoo maps. I use Google maps. I’m just telling you,” Bartz told an audience member at the Morgan Stanley technology conference who had inquired about Google’s apparent mapping superiority.

Google’s Schmidt: Twitter is poor man’s email

Google CEO Eric Schmidt thinks Twitter’s success is wonderful, but he’s not particularly impressed with the product’s usefulness.***

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In fact, Schmidt deems Twitter and products of its ilk “poor man’s email systems,’ as he told the crowd at the Morgan Stanley Technology conference in San Francisco on Tuesday.

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Twitter’s text-based messaging service, which limits messages to 140 characters, can’t compare to all the features and storage capabilities of a full-fledged email product, Schmidt said.

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What’s more, he noted, Google already has a very successful instant messaging product.

Google’s meals — magic

Google may be tightening its belt amid the recession, but its workers don’t have to worry about losing access to the company’s celebrated food trough.

Free meals are “part of the magic of the place,” Google Finance Chief Patrick Pichette told investors at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference in San Francisco on Wednesday.

Subsidized workplace dining fosters important “cross-polinization” by giving the worker bees a place to sit down and mingle, said Pichette in response to a question from the audience about the company’s approach to profit margins.

Checking out the Microsoft retail store

When it comes to Microsoft, you can count on one thing: Whatever they do will get plenty of scrutiny in on the wires, in newspapers, and across blogs. Think A-Rod or Brad and Angelina.

Last night, they announced plans to start opening retail stores, which generated a lot of attention (rightfully so, too). Here’s the plan, as Reuters put its:

The world’s largest software company, which also makes the Xbox video game console and the Zune digital music player, did not say how many stores it was looking to open, or when, or which of its products would be on sale.

Looks like Yahoo’s not buying Tumblr

Gawker/Valleywag created a bit of stir on the blogosphere Monday with its report that Yahoo was in talks to buy blogging startup Tumblr for “low to mid-eight figures,” or as much as $50 million.

From the post:

We hear the talks are serious, led by Tapan Bhat, a fast-rising executive in charge of Yahoo’s homepage and other key properties — but as with any acquisition talks, they could fall apart.

We figured Yahoo’s new CEO Carol Bartz was too busy figuring out where Yahoo should seek growth and how to stem the leaky ship to pursue an acquisition. Sure enough, Silicon Alley Insider knocked down the Valleywag story by getting Tumblr founder David Karp on the record: