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Is Facebook's Oculus VR Purchase A 'Stretch' Without A Proven 'Path to Monetization'?

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Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) received a ton of praise for its acquisition of WhatsApp, but analysts are much less bullish on the company's decision to buy Oculus VR.

Featured in Benzinga's list of the top five companies that Google should acquire next, Oculus VR is famous for developing a virtual reality headset called Oculus Rift. The device is not yet available to the public, but gamers and game developers have been very excited about its prospects.

Now that the company is under Facebook's control, Oculus VR is bound to head in a different direction. While Facebook seems to be interested in what the startup can do for gaming, the Mark Zuckerberg empire is more intrigued by its prospects for social media. This could greatly alter the future that Oculus VR set out to create.

"I see the logic of it…but I am taking a wait-and-see approach," Topeka Capital Markets analyst Victor Anthony told Benzinga. "I think there's an element of risk in Facebook's model that did not exist about two months ago."

Related: Can Sony Steal Microsoft's Thunder With Virtual Reality?

That risk was caused by the company's decision to spend at least $16 billion on WhatsApp and $2 billion on Oculus VR.

"Instagram is successful -- I'm gonna give them that and say it's a successful acquisition, because I clearly see the path to monetization for Instagram," Anthony added. "However, the path to monetization (at least minimal monetization) for Oculus, as well as WhatsApp, is still unproven to me at this point. They're in the midst of digesting two acquisitions, but the payout -- that's uncertain. And not only is the payout uncertain, the timing is uncertain."

"Seems Like A Stretch"

Hudson Square analyst Daniel Ernst said that the Oculus acquisition "seems like a stretch."

"I get what they're talking about -- that the future of communications could be in virtual reality and they're making a bet on that," Ernst told Benzinga. "But it seems like a stretch. Plus, the more important element of Facebook is that they have the platform which connects people. It really shouldn't matter what technology people choose, whether it's the Web, whether it's mobile, whether it's virtual reality -- they're the glue that connects all the different pieces. It doesn't seem to me that they need to own the display technology."

Not Yet A "Real" Business

When asked if this acquisition means that a major player has been taken out of the VR race, Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter told Benzinga that "virtual reality isn't a real business yet, so 'major player' is pretty irrelevant."

"No impact on the gaming space at all," he added.

Related: Facebook Vs. WhatsApp: Which Company Is More Valuable?

Ernst had a similar viewpoint. He told Benzinga that virtual reality is not yet an important part of the gaming industry.

"It's really just an idea that might be part of the gaming industry," he said. "But Facebook was clear that the commercial element of this for the time being, and that's probably for the next three to five years before those other, bigger picture concepts that Mark [Zuckerberg] eluded to will take place. They said that the near-term opportunity remains gaming."

Disclosure: At the time of this writing, Louis Bedigian had no position in the equities mentioned in this report.

Latest Ratings for FB

DateFirmActionFromTo
Nov 2014Hilliard LyonsInitiates Coverage onLong-term Buy
Nov 2014Morgan StanleyInitiates Coverage onOverweight
Oct 2014Tigress FinancialUpgradesNeutralBuy

View More Analyst Ratings for FB
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