Skype Continues to be Profitable in Spite of Activity Drop

Skype revenue up, profitable for 2nd consecutive quarter, but usage down?

eBay’s quarterly earnings conference this afternoon revealed little about Skype; we got the usual numbers:

In the more detailed presentation by CFO Bob Swan, he provided two additional numbers:

  • Skype-to-Skype Minutes: 7.1 million, down from 7.7 million in Q1
  • SkypeOut Minutes: 1.3 million, flat from Q1

and stated that Skype’s activation numbers were not where they would like them to be. In her earlier summary presentation, eBay CEO Meg Whitman mentioned the WalMart retail partnership, three objectives for Skype:

  • build the user base
  • expand the Skype ecosystem
  • improved call quality,

and closed with the single remark Skype “needs more user activity” as an issue to be addressed in Q3. During the Q&A with questions from analysts, who are supposed to be tracking the company’s activities, there were NO questions about Skype. Maybe being 5% of the overall eBay revenue, yet profitable, is the formula to not attract their attention.

Over the past 24 hours I (i) attended my 10th Research in Motion Annual Meeting in Waterloo (makers of the Blackberry) where I came away with a very detailed understanding of RIM’s business activity and where they are going and (ii) this afternoon listened to the eBay earnings conference where I came away with little additional understanding of eBay’s Skype business. So here’s my take:

The positives:

  • sustained revenues and a second consecutive quarter of profitability
    • update: impact of new pricing (see link below)
  • US user registrations grew 20% to 25% compared to 12% overall growth
    • based on the assumption above tying revenue to user registrations
    • is this a direct result of the WalMart retail effort?

The concerns:

  • user voice activity is in decline
  • US revenues remain in the 15% to 16% range
  • total user accounts becomes more of a meaningless number. In my experience with direct marketing, you know that customer databases became stale over time.

Om questions “how is the revenue growing when everything is either trending down or flattening”? Update: Alec Saunders reminds us that Skype introduced a couple of pricing changes which had minimal impact for those of us who primarily use Skype’s Unlimited North American calling plan but have do help to explain both increased revenues and lwoer usage.

While eBay provides the bare minimum of information required under SEC regulations, many companies will provide additional information that does not compromise their overall competitive position. Based not only what I heard from RIM but also what is provided by other telecom carriers here is what I would like to hear in their quarterly earnings report:

  • actual number of active accounts at the end of the quarter
    • accounts that actually placed at least one call during the quarter
  • % breakdown of revenue by communications services, hardware royalties, partner software services and other
  • Skype margins and the three usual cost lines: Sales & Marketing, R&D, G&A

eBay has to be an analyst’s nightmare, given there are three basic businesses: marketplaces, financial services and telecom services, each of which have different financial models and financing requirements. At least these numbers for each of eBay’s units would provide better shareholder and analyst guidance in valuing the company. AT&T does it (requires Excel); RIM does it: 76% devices, 16% service, 5% software, 3% other.

And when I asked at the RIM meeting why they had shipped 2.4 million units but only had 1.2 million activations, it came out that the difference can largely be attributed to users buying upgrades. So effectively it comes out that there is huge loyalty amongst Blackberry users, so much so that new features and services are driving a significant portion of their hardware revenue. In my mini-analysis above, it come out that Skype’s US user growth is substantial (even if the actual numbers are off by as much as 10% to 15%). What other information could we learn about Skype without giving away the business from having these types of numbers?

I’ll leave it to another post for my suggestions as to how to increase user activity; but suffice it to say I had three Skype partner experiences today to suggest that they look hard at the Skype Developer Partner program as a key element for driving new user registrations. Oh, and read the Voice 2.0 Manifesto. SunRocket didn’t; Vonage hasn’t. Skype’s Developer Partner program now has the Voice 2.0 seedlings to be positioned for success.

Tags: eBay, Skype, Voice 2.0 Manifesto, SunRocket, Vonage

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About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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