Here’s one way of looking at Facebook’s $2 billion purchase of Oculus Rift:
Yes, the social network is buying a VR helmet-maker.
The dominant reaction to the move could be summed up in three letters: WTF.
We see the acquisition of a piece with recent moves by other technology companies. Google bought Nest, a home automation/robotics company, and a passel of robotics companies. Apple is negotiating with Comcast about building out a TV service on the cable company’s pipes. And Facebook itself recently has supposedly been in talks to buy a drone maker.
What do they all have in common?
All these moves are about technology companies looking to create businesses off the computer/mobile screen. In a world where smartphone sales growth is going to level off soon, where social networking growth has already slowed, where everyone already uses Google … where do companies go to continue the revenue growth that is baked into their current share prices?
As I’ve said on many occasions, “synergy” is the word a CEO uses when he wants to buy out another company, but doesn’t exactly know why or how to make it work. “We’ll develop synergies” is what Steve Case said about the AOL/Time-Warner deal. Good times.
I can’t seem to find the details of the deal anywhere — how much is cash, how much is shares — but here’s what Mark Zuckerberg had to say about it:
“The history of our industry is that every 10 or 15 years there’s a new major computing platform, whether it’s the PC, the Web or now mobile,” Facebook co-founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said in a conference call with analysts and media on Tuesday to discuss the acquisition.
“We’re making a long-term bet that immersive, virtual and augmented reality will become a part of people’s daily life,” the 29-year-old Zuckerberg said, noting that wearing the Oculus goggles was “different than anything I’ve ever experienced in my life.”
It seems almost unfair to mention that Oculus Rift makes giant goggles which, while they might be cool for hardcore gamers and/or pr0n lovers, they hardly seem to have the kind of mobile and mainstream appeal Facebook’s core audience might enjoy.
Does Oculus Rift have some other, more marketable product waiting in the wings? Perhaps. But the company hasn’t even managed to bring its massive $300 goggles to market yet.
Facebook has forked out $21 billion in recent weeks for one product of dubious marketability and for a social network of unknown worth. In fact, if we should have learned anything about social networks, it’s that they can be difficult-to-impossible to monetarize. A company would be better off developing a new one in-house on the cheap (like Facebook in the early days) than spending big bucks buying somebody else’s (like Facebook last month).
Or is there something here I’m missing, other than a share of the billions flying out of Facebook’s door?
ALSO: Oculus Rift’s Kickstarter financiers will get nothing out of the deal, despite their $2.5 million investment having returned 800% for the company.