Skype, All Talk, Just Not Facts

Every quarter, one hopes EBay will provide some clarity on Skype, and what kind of success the company is having with its $2.6 billion purchase. And every quarter, one is left scratching his head, pondering over meaningless metrics. It is baffling because eBay calls it third division, and engine of future growth. However unlike core eBay and PayPal divisions, Skype’s performance is a riddle wrapped in an enigma.

Thanks to Seeking Alpha, we can read the full transcript of the latest earnings’ conference call, and you can see for yourself, what most of the information carries little or no weight, especially in financial terms. Meg Whitman, on the call, pointed out that Skype added “nearly 19 million users for a total of 113 million users worldwide.”

That’s an uptick of nearly 19% quarter over quarter. I should be impressed, but I am not. Why? Because registered users don’t necessarily mean active users. It would be great to see the active user base, not registered users because people can register and never use the service. Never mind, for that could be construed as nitpicking.

Whitman pointed out that Skype users collectively spent nearly 7.1 billion minutes skyping with each other in Q2, another strong indicator of Skype’s growing appeal. Okay, since eBay is a publicly traded company, it would have been nice to hear how much revenue has eBay gotten from those 7.1 billion minutes.

The only information we have – Skype business brought in $44 million this quarter, up 25% from last quarter when that line of business brought in $35.2 million. Just to play around for a minute, in the first quarter 2006, Skype business brought in about 37 cents per registered user. In the second quarter that number is up to 39 cents per registered user. Hey growth is still growth, even if its two pennies.

Thanks to free calling, Whitman pointed out that by June there were 10 million users in North America.

Daily revenue from the U.S. and Canada has now accelerated past pre-campaign levels. We are very excited about Skype’s progress in North America.

How much? Not sure what the daily revenues were and are, so we are to take their word for it. Want to get clarity on that, how about checking out Phil Wolf over at The Skype Journal.

86% of Skype’s revenue remained international, down a hair from 87%. This just means that Skype’s growth in the United States, the great-untapped market, is matched elsewhere. Let’s assume 86% of the new accounts are international, just like the revenue. This means Skype’s been picking up 840,000 new US users per month. Big in absolute terms but small as a percent of all US people online or even eBay customers. The U.S. market will need a promotional shove to grow faster and catch up.

What was most disappointing was the analysts did not ask any hard questions, and no one has done any analysis on the business. Its been nearly a year, isn’t it time for the analyst community to stand up and say: what’s up?

Let me rephrase it – every eBay employee has to submit an expense report, which the accounting department pours over it. Even if its $260 bucks. Why doesn’t anyone ask for clear accounting for a $2.6 billion transaction – what it is bringing in terms of profits (or losses.) No one bothered to ask about yet another management shuffle at Skype, and/or the big question – how does the company plan to counter the free calling offers from competitors?

It took a softball question from some random analyst that prompted the CFO to say, “we continue to believe we can deliver $200 million for the full year.” No follow-up question, about profitability of the third leg of the business eBay is betting its future on. But then asking tough questions is not part of that analyst’s agenda.