Last week, Pocket Lint broke the story that Facebook might be looking to acquire Opera. Initially, I was pretty dismissive of the report. While, the deal did make sense for Facebook, I wasn’t sure it was something that Opera really needed. In fact, Opera’s co-founder and ex-CEO Jon von Tetzchner’s comments echoed as much. “I want Opera to focus on growth and delivering good results; there are big opportunities for Opera,” Tetzchner, who holds 10.9 percent of Opera, told Reuters. “We have been promised 500 million users by 2013, and I think that’s a good goal and the firm should keep going for it.” He added, “I personally think that an ARPU (average revenue per user) goal of $1 is even modest. I am not pushing for a takeover.”
However, Pocket Lint’s initial report has since been backed up by Robin Wauters who is typically well sourced in browser related matters. Not only that, bankers told Reuters that Opera had “long been up for sale informally”. Now, I find this bit of information particularly interesting because of one reason. Tetzchner quit Opera last year. His departing email read, “It has become clear that The Board, Management and I do not share the same values and we do not have the same opinions on how to keep evolving Opera”. My theory is that it is quite possible that Jon’s disagreement with the board was over their plans on pushing for a takeover by a larger entity. Tetzchner always regarded Opera as his baby, and insisted on staying independent and retaining a core set of values that defined Opera Software. It’s hard to think that he would have found proposals of selling out agreeable.
While all of the above is conjecture on my part, there is one bit of information that Vygantas has dug out, which strongly hints that something is up at Opera software. As you might already know, a significant portion of Opera’s revenues come from its search agreement with Google. Opera ships with Google as the default search engine, and in return, Google shares a chunk of revenue it generates from the traffic coming from Opera. Earlier today, Opera Software announced that it is extending its existing agreement with Google for a month. This move is extremely unusual, as typically such renewals are for a year or several years. I don’t remember Opera ever renewing its agreement for such a short period. While it is entirely possible that the renewal is simply a temporary measure to give the two companies some time to thrash out a new deal, it is also possible that Opera expects something big to happen in the next one month. You know, like being acquired by Facebook.
There is still no concrete proof that anything is really going on. But, over the past week, we have seen multiple sources claim that something might be up. In my opinion, the deal does make sense for Facebook. It will allow it to both gain eyeballs in the mobile segment, and also better monetize it. However, I am not convinced that it’s in Opera’s best interests to allow itself to be gobbled up by folks for whom browser is not really a priority. Facebook might increase Opera’s reach, but it might also stagnate Opera’s development, hamper its innovative edge, and tarnish its reputation and trust.