What's Ahead for BlackBerry Messenger?

 | Feb 13, 2014 | 7:39 AM EST  | Comments
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The news earlier this week that BlackBerry Messenger chief Andrew Bocking was leaving BlackBerry (BBRY) came as a bit of a surprise.

Just a few weeks ago, on the December earnings calls, BBY CEO John Chen had said that BBM was one of the crown jewels of BlackBerry. It now has been shuttled off to be under the Enterprise division. Is this the best place for BBM?

Chen has made it clear that he has an enterprise focus. And there is an opportunity for BBM to be the WhatsApp or the WeChat of the enterprise. Think of a new version of the Intranet from days of old. I can imagine that there would be many CIOs who are interested in this type of application. Whether they'll pay for it in a meaningful way is another story.

BBM is more than an enterprise app. For most of its history, the product has been a consumer play -- at least that's where it's been the most popular. It was only a few years ago when kids in Southeast Asia and Latin America were all addicted to BBM.

They made the decision to make BBM cross-platform a few months ago, albeit a couple of years too late. They immediately announced an additional 10 million subscribers to BBM. It's not clear how many of these subscribers had already been BBM subscribers on old BlackBerry devices. How many new subs did BlackBerry truly add to the mix? It's probably less than 10 million. There hasn't been a new update of BBM subscriber counts since BlackBerry trumpeted its 80 million subscribers.

It's possible that Bocking left because he saw no future for BBM in its current configuration. It's also possible he simply didn't see himself on the inside circle with new CEO John Chen and decided to leave now and find something else to do. Or perhaps Chen wanted his own ex-Sybase guy to oversee BBM.

Could Chen be thinking of dumping BBM entirely by selling it to another party? It's possible. With all the buzz around WhatsApp, SnapChat, and WeChat, Chen could figure now's the time to sell BBM when the rest of the market still sees some value in it. What's BBM worth? We know that Tencent has added about $65 billion in the last year. This is arguably all due to the growth of WeChat. At the moment, WeChat has about 300 million users in China.

BBM is at 80 million subscribers but it's certainly not growing at the same pace as WeChat. Some have speculated that it's worth at least $1 billion and that seems fair given WeChat's growth and importance to Tencent's price.

If it is sold -- and it should be of interest to a Facebook (FB) or a Google (GOOG) -- it would have a meaningful impact on BlackBerry's stock price.

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