Rakuten acquires Viber messaging app for $900m

Japanese giant steps into mobile messaging market

Japanese e-commerce firm Rakuten has bought Viber messaging app for $900m as it begins to expand its digital content for the future.

Rakuten, the owner of online retailer Play.com, calls the acquisition a “bold step” as it tries to reach consumers who are increasingly using their smartphones to access the internet.

Viber, a messaging app that offers free calls and text messages to smartphone users, is the latest purchase in a spending spree that has seen Rakuten buy on-demand service Wuaki.tv, streaming-service Viki and a stake in Pinterest.

Rakuten chairman and chief executive Hiroshi Mikitani said: "Simply put, Viber understands how people actually want to engage and have built the only service that truly delivers on all fronts. This makes Viber the ideal total consumer engagement platform for Rakuten."

The Japanese company will pay $900m (£540m) for Viber, which has over 300 million registered users and operates in almost 200 countries.

Viber founder Talmon Marco said: "Our vision is to be the world’s number one communications platform and our combination with Rakuten is an important step in that direction.”

Viber competes with other messaging apps such as Whatsapp, WeChat and Line.

Rakuten, which also owns Canada’s e-reader Kobo, said the purchase would allow it to expand its digital content into emerging markets.