Facebook Inc.'s Mark Zuckerberg could have paid a 50 per cent takeout premium for BlackBerry Inc., got similar global reach in messaging through the company's BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service, and saved more than $11-billion (U.S.). So why didn't he?
BlackBerry is not a perfect fit for Facebook. New management would be faced with the same difficult strategic dilemmas, severance costs, and poor brand perception that current CEO John Chen has to deal with now. It's also possible (although not probable, in my opinion) that the Canadian government would have concerns about foreign ownership of a former flagship Canadian company.
At the same time, a few executive hassles seems like a reasonable price to pay to save $11-billion.
BBM remains highly competitive with WhatsApp in many key markets. According to Forbes, the availability of BBM on the iPhone operating system was a huge success. In the first month it was available, "BBM was the most downloaded messaging app in U.K. and India – and only two percentage points behind WhatsApp in South Africa."
BBM is struggling for market share in the U.S., but so is WhatsApp. Competing messenging apps Kik and Viber have now pulled even with WhatsApp in the world's biggest market.
BlackBerry stock is higher Thursday, but I strongly suspect this won't last. The extravagant valuation Facebook intends to pay for WhatsApp – which at $19-billion amounts to more than $350-million per employee – only makes sense in combination with the 1.2 billion Facebook users across the globe.
Without a platform as powerful as Facebook, BBM is at a huge competitive disadvantage. This implies that BBM is worth less in the wake of the deal, not more. The only real hope for BBM growth is a takeout offer from Google or another major player looking to grab market share.
It's frustrating because it would have made more sense for Facebook to buy BlackBerry for $7.5- or $8-billion, rather than WhatsApp for more than double the price. Is the brand that broken?