HONG KONG — Softbank, the Japanese tech giant that last year paid $20 billion for U.S. phone company Sprint-Nextel, is said to be seeking to buy a stake in Line, an online messaging service controlled by South Korea’s Naver.
Bloomberg and other media report that Softbank boss Masayoshi Son has held talks with Line and that Naver has received more than one bid for the Line unit. Naver, which has also been considering a spin-off IPO for Line, saw its shares rise by more than 8% in trading on Tuesday. Reuters carries a report saying that Naver is not in disposal talks.
Line was founded in 2011 by Naver’s Japanese unit and now claims some 340 million users worldwide, including 50 million in Japan where it is the country’s most used messaging service. It is also the most used in Thailand and Taiwan.
Line had revenue of $335 million last year. But analysts see its user base and valuation soaring. In a recent research note quoted by Bloomberg, BNP Paribas estimated that line will expand its user base in India and Latin America and could be valued at $14.9 billion by the end of this year.
The Line takeover talk follows the recent $900 million acquisition of messaging service Viber by Japan’s Rakuten and Facebook’s proposed purchase of WhatsApp for up to $19 billion. The attraction in each case is the potential to monetize messaging through advertising sales, gaming and e-commerce.
Softbank is Japan’s third ranked cell phone network, the largest shareholder in Yahoo! Japan and GungHo Online Entertainment. It also recently bought Chinese content provider Wandoujia and Finnish games maker Supercell.