Whither Skype?

New CEO Josh Silverman has been on the job for three weeks now but little, if anything, has been heard to date beyond Josh’s initial blog post at the time of the announcement of his appointment. The comments to this post reveal a lot of "great expectations".

Yet the Skype ecosystem continues to thrive:

  • The Skype Business Control Panel has been upgraded to bring it closer to a realistic Skype for Business management tool. Easier addition of new employees; a new members’ directory, better call reporting and an increased limit (to €1,000) of Skype purchases are amongst the new features.
  • A Skype-initiated research report on conference calling indicates an appetite for increased use of both voice and video conference calling by small-to-medium businesses (SMB’s) over the next 12 months. While it’s easy to speculate on reduced travel costs as a driver, it’s really the ability to more readily and spontaneously launch a conference call and to use them in situations where previously input and consensus would not be sought due to the overhead and "nuisance" costs involved that has to be a key factor in the increases forecast. It’s largely a matter of training more employees about the simplicity of IM messaging and ease of setting up ad hoc conference calls. Computer Business Review interviewed Skype’s business product development manager, Wilhelm Lundborg for additional comment:

"There have been several developments in the way we work and communicate. Businesses have become more global in their scope; employers are offering more flexible working arrangements such as working from home, and there is a willingness to cut back on timely and costly travel, in order to reduce carbon footprints,"

  • Skype 3.8 beta has been released. I can only report that I continue to have better quality voice calls and more consistent High Quality Video calls with this beta – in this case I am largely reporting what my contacts tell me as unsolicited comments during the calls. Over the weekend I did encounter a couple of situations where my Skype client would suddenly and arbitrarily shut down but I was also able to hold a 90 minute video call with my son and daughter in a distant city while helping them with their income tax reporting; the High Quality Video logo was there for most of the call. Chat, file transfer, video, voice all came into use as we worked through various issues. Oprah continues to use Skype video on both her daily show and her "A New Earth" classroom.
  • TechnicalMarkus over at Mobile Shop’s Mobile Phone News blog talks about "a mobile phone I had a chance to have a muck about with this week, that I really have fallen in love with". Just supports my thesis that Andy really went back to the U.K. this month so that he could use his Skypephone. Suffice it to say I have had a chance to try out the Skypephone last week also; when you consider the feature set and price positioning, I can understand why it is doing so well in all of 3’s markets. I have become a regular user of iSkoot (whose software is behind the Skypephone) on my Blackberry over the past few weeks as well.; there is an advantage to having a QWERTY keyboard for chat. (Note that iSkoot’s new management has figured out how to communicate with its market through a blog.)
  • Fring has broken out of iPhone jail to provide a beta client for the iPhone. Yesterday Dave Zatz reported success in making calls to Skype contacts while Alec Saunders reports he could not dial-out using SkypeOut. I did receive a couple of calls from Alec via GTalk but he feels that this client is not ready to support the several thousand contacts he has in Skype/GTalk/MSN Live Messenger. Dave later reported to me that he found connectivity issues — probably an increased server load due to all the attempts being made to use it. Not ready for main street yet. Also not sure where a sustainable future lies for this if it does not go through Apple’s program for iPhone developers.

With all these positive notes, there continue to be business issues at Skype. Little has been heard about the Skype Developer Program; they have taken up one of Paul Amery’s suggestions (removal of the Skype Extras revenue share until year end) but, as for another one, I know there are former Microsoft program managers out there who understand the Skype ecosystem and who could be an appropriate leader for this program. And let’s hope Josh can find a Marketing Vice-President who can proactively and more aggressively drive the development of Skype’s awareness to both the consumer and SMB markets. For a company that has brought out great advances in communications infrastructure, there is lots more potential for success if they can figure out how to communicate more effectively with their ecosystem of partners and users.

Let’s see what comes out of the eBay conference call; once it’s over there is no excuse to hold back on Skype news of any significance from inside Skype. And to repeat my request made last summer for more realistic numbers on Skype usage (the appointment of new CEO’s at both eBay and Skype is a good time to change the story):

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 about Skype in eBay’s 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.

Tags: Skype, Josh Silverman, Skype High Quality Video, Andy Abramons, VoIP Watch, TechnicalMarkus, Paul Amery, Fring, Dave Zata, Alec Saunders

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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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