Singapore start-up set to be sold for $255m

Singapore start-up set to be sold for $255m

A Singapore-based video streaming service is set to be acquired for a reported US$200 million (S$255 million) by a Japanese e-commerce giant, in what is believed to be the biggest start-up acquisition in recent history here.

Viki, which uses an army of voluntary online fans to translate and subtitle the dialogue in primetime TV shows and movies from around the world, will be bought over by Rakuten, best known here for e-books retailer Kobo which it acquired in 2011.

No details of the transaction were disclosed, although United States-based technology website AllThingsD reported the purchase price as US$200 million, citing sources.

Viki's chief executive and co-founder Razmig Hovaghimian said the acquisition "went much faster than expected", adding that it was only "fairly recently" that he met Rakuten chief executive Hiroshi Mikitani. The Japanese firm has made an aggressive push outside Japan to expand and diversify its business, competing with the likes of Amazon.

"We started to click and we are both driven to build the next big thing," said Mr Hovaghimian, an American who launched Viki in 2010 with Korean husband- and-wife team Ho Changseong and Moon Jiwon.

Viki, headquartered in Tras Street, has some 40 employees here. Mr Hovaghimian relocated to Singapore in 2009 after his film-maker wife won a scholarship at Tisch School of the Arts Asia. Since then, Viki has taken advantage of strong government backing and the Republic's location to make deals in places like Taiwan and South Korea.

Mr Hovaghimian said the firm will stay on. "Singapore is always home," he said.

Rakuten said it plans to leverage on Viki's global footprint, content and language analytics and community-first expertise to expand the scope of its US$16 billion Internet services ecosystem.

Viki, with more than 22 million users of more than 160 languages, will tap Rakuten's registered users to grow in Japan and Europe. The company's revenue comes largely from advertising.

In April, online portal sgCarMart was bought by media group Singapore Press Holdings for up to $60 million. Local online coupon site Beeconomic was bought by US-based Groupon for a reported US$24 million in 2010.

derrickh@sph.com.sg


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