Who Is the Best Skype Suitor? Google, Microsoft or Yahoo?

Collaboration SuitesMarketingSoftware

It’s impossible for eBay to report quarterly earnings without the usual deliberations about what the company could, would or should do with Skype. So it comes as no surprise that media hounded eBay CEO John Donahoe about the VOIP unit, one of those anomalous acquisitions that people still scratch their heads about. For £1.8 billion, Skype was an overpriced, albeit trendy, technology play for eBay to make in 2005.

Now Donahoe is tossing about comments like Skype would “make a great stand-alone business” and “the synergies between Skype and the other parts of our portfolio are minimal.”

This of course is triggering mass speculation that Donahoe wants to dump the property. Honestly, what would you think?

I think Skype is ripe for a buy. Part of me thinks Skype could be had for a relative song in this recession, perhaps half as much as the 2005 valuation.

Another part of me thinks that Skype paid supremely for the technology in 2005 but the value has gotten closer to the purchase price thanks to the growing user base of 370 million Skypers. What would that be worth? Would it be as much as what eBay paid for it?

I don’t know, but analysts say they have a good idea. Jim Friedland, senior Internet equity analyst for Cowen and Company, told CNET the highest price that eBay could hope to get for Skype is about £1.1 billion, which would be a generous offer.

So who in this economy would buy Skype? Conversation forever turns to Google as a possible suitor because of its focus on consumer Web services, which is Skype’s sweet spot. I find this less likely now than I did in November 2007.

As thick as Skype’s user base is, Google has the technology pieces in place to offer its own mass VOIP service. Google Talk is solid and the company recently brought voice and video chat into Gmail, approximating Skype’s service as a feature in its Web mail app.

Combine that Gmail feature with the soon-to-be refreshed GrandCentral assets and Google has a powerful combination, bundling VOIP with phone number funneling technology.

Why spend £1 billion-plus just for users? Perhaps when the economy is in the black, but not now. Google doesn’t need the users that much and seems more inclined to target mobile users as the next hot zone.

Cowen analyst Friedland chooses Microsoft as the likely suitor and I’d have to agree. Microsoft is always in the hunt for properties that will give it more Web cred, which it sorely lacks no matter how many ex-Yahoos it hires to boost search. Skype’s user base would be a nice shot to revitalize its Internet arm.

Om Malik says Yahoo would be a great fit:

Yahoo is a much better buyer for Skype as it has experience working with consumers and offering paid services. As for other likely buyers, I would put large telecom operators such as British Telecom and France Telecom high on the list.

I’m going to strike BT from that equation because they bought Ribbit last summer, which is basically VOIP for enterprise apps and social networks.

Who do you see as the most likely landing zone for Skype, or is it staying put at eBay?