Facebook is crushing it with advertising. The massive social network, referred to by some as an ad tech and digital media company like fellow digital behemoths Google and Yahoo, will report second quarter earnings Wednesday after markets close and analysts are expecting strong growth.
An emphasis on mobile and video has pushed the company forward in revenue and user engagement. CEO Mark Zuckerberg reported in the last earnings call that the site receives four billion video views each day compared to three billion in January and one billion in September 2014.
Overall, analysts estimate Facebook’s revenue to reach $3.99 billion this quarter, up from $2.68 billion in Q2 2014. Some firms predict much higher, such as RBC Capital Markets at $4.10 billion. In the first quarter of 2015, mobile accounted for 73 percent of the company’s advertising revenue, up from 59 percent in the same period a year ago. That number is expected to rise to 75 percent, Cantor Fitzgerald predicts.
With improvements in its products for both users and advertisers across its slew of apps and the desktop site, Facebook could be drawing even more money and eyes. "The new efficiencies in ad sales and bidding should be coming through now -- in fact, I will be a bit disappointed if click-throughs don’t bounce more than moderately -- especially with bigger input from video,” Ken Odeluga, a senior market analyst at City Index, wrote in an email.
Demand For Video
Facebook has released several changes to the network to improve the mobile and video experience over the last year. For example, the site has been surfacing more auto-play videos and suggested video content. It has also been encouraging direct uploading, akin to YouTube, for which the company has created a new online portal and tools for publishers.
Google and Yahoo both reported strong video advertising revenue and user demand this quarter, with Google emphasizing its 60 percent growth in overall watch time year-over-year. Yahoo said that it has lessened its focus on display advertising and instead turned to video, as well. “Both suggest very healthy industry demand trends for Online Video Advertising, which FB should fully benefit from,” RBC Capital Markets’ Mark Mahaney wrote in a research note.
Beyond site tweaks and algorithmic changes, Facebook has sought to boost its appeal to advertisers. Its “Atlas” server, which provides direct targeting and insights into its 1.44 billion users, was relaunched in October 2014. "The advertising initiatives FB put in place over the last 12 months -- new platforms for mobile and un-mothballing of ‘Atlas’ server, should now be way past ‘beta,'" City Index's Odeluga wrote in an email.
According to data from ad software company Nanigans , Facebook ads are drawing more clicks than ever. Global click-through rates are up by 187 percent and cost per 1,000 impressions (CPMS) have increased by 142 percent year-over-year, Nanigans reports. Nanigan's Vice President of Marketing Cheryl Morris attributed the rise to Facebook's improvements in targeting and ad options.
"What we’re seeing are more and more direct response advertisers committing budget to the [video] format," Morris wrote in an email. "This is thanks to Facebook releasing units like the video-enabled Mobile App Install ad, which have clear, embedded calls to action that these advertisers need to meet their goals."
For this quarter, Facebook is not only bringing in revenue from brand and corporate engagement but also the beginning of the 2016 U.S. presidential race. Its new "Instant Articles" project, offering media outlets the ability to directly publish and sell ads within the network, has also attracted attention.
How Many Users?
Instagram, the photo-sharing app that Facebook acquired for $1 billion in 2012, has also been growing its advertising offerings. The app first introduced advertising in October 2013 and has since expanded its options to “carousel ads” -- a slideshow of products -- and is currently testing “buy” buttons with several partners. Facebook announced the app will also pull from Facebook’s user insights for targeting tools. Instagram may be on track to surpass Google in advertising, with an estimated $2.8 billion in mobile ad revenue by 2017, research firm eMarketer predicts in a new report.
Analysts are awaiting an updated account of user numbers for Facebook’s slew of mobile products. Instagram hit 300 million active users, surpassing Twitter, in December 2014, but the network has yet to reveal new data. WhatsApp has 800 million active users, Facebook announced in April, a jump from 600 million in January. And now that Messenger no longer requires a Facebook account to use, the app may have reached another milestone from its 700 million monthly active users reported in June.
“If any hit, or almost hit 1 billion, that would make up for any shortfalls in any other expectations,” City Index’s Ortega wrote. Facebook did fail to meet Wall Street estimates on sales last quarter, for the first time since it went public in 2012.
Facebook reported its milestone of 1.44 billion active monthly users, which places it above the population of China, during its April earnings call. That number includes 1.25 billion on mobile. The network has also been pushing its Internet.org initiative to provide basic online services, including access to Facebook, in developing countries. That project has been expanded to all mobile networks, the company announced Monday, and could provide a strong base of new users.
The company’s other asset, Oculus, is still pushing ahead to release its first consumer product. The virtual-reality headset is not expected until early 2016. But the VR division has been making other investments beyond the first product. In May, Oculus acquired Surreal Vision, an augmented reality startup, for an undisclosed sum. In July, Facebook bought gesture control company Pebbles for $60 million.