The headwinds of Covid-19’s economic impact in the second quarter were strong enough to slow down even the ad-funded tech giants.
In its second-quarter results released on July 30, Facebook reported $18.7 billion in revenue, an increase of 11% despite the slowdown of advertising spend as marketers navigate the ongoing crisis. The results included $18.3 billion in ad revenue, a 10% year-over-year increase. Revenue from other operations totaled $366 million, up 40% from second-quarter 2019.
While Facebook maintained growth during the second quarter, its advertising rival Google did not. Around the same time that Facebook released its results, Google’s parent company Alphabet reported a rare decline in revenue, falling 2% year-over-year to $38.3 billion. Revenue from Google Search and other areas totaled $21.3 billion, down from $23.6 billion in second-quarter 2019. However, ad revenue on YouTube increased 6% to $3.8 billion, which the company said was driven by direct-response advertising.
In a statement, Ruth Porat, chief financial officer of Alphabet and Google, said revenues were “driven by gradual improvement in our ads business and strong growth in Google Cloud and Other Revenues.”
“We continue to navigate through a difficult global economic environment,” she said.
Both Facebook and Google have been known for their steady and massive quarterly growth despite concerns from advertisers, consumers and regulators around issues such as data privacy and content moderation. In 2019, Facebook reported revenue growth of 28% in the second quarter, 28% in the third quarter, and 25% in the fourth quarter. Revenue then grew just 17% in the first quarter of 2020 during the final three months before the pandemic prompted many advertisers to either pause or slow spending on various digital and traditional platforms.
Google’s growth story has been somewhat similar. Year-over-year revenue grew 17% in the first quarter of 2019, 19% in the second quarter, 20% in the third quarter, 17% in the fourth quarter before slowing to 13% in the first quarter of 2020.
On an earnings call today with analysts, Porat said advertising revenue “gradually improved” through the quarter with a “modest” improvement already in July.
“We do believe it’s premature to say we’re out of the woods, given the fragile nature of the economic environment,” she said.
The results come at a time of turmoil for the ad industry during the pandemic. In late June, marketing research firm eMarketer said it expected U.S. digital ad investment to increase just 1.7% this year—or $2.2 billion—compared to the previous growth estimate of 17%, or $22 billion. However, the slowed spending should be no surprise. In fact, during the early weeks of the crisis back in March, a survey of 400 media buyers found that 74% thought the pandemic would have a larger impact on ad spend than the 2008 financial crisis.
Facebook and Alphabet—along with other tech giants like Amazon and Apple—also have been under increased scrutiny by lawmakers. On Wednesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai along with the CEOs of Apple and Amazon spent the entire afternoon testifying to members of Congress. While the hearing was meant to focus on issues of antitrust, the four executives also touched on other issues ranging including data privacy, content moderation, and political influence.
While ad revenues were slower over the past three months, engagement was not. According to Facebook, engage on Facebook’s properties in terms of daily active users (DAUs) and monthly active users (MAUs) also increased in the second quarter, with DAUs increasing 12% year-over-year to 1.79 billion and MAUs increasing 12% to 2.7 billion. Across its “family” of apps—which includes Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp—DAUs totaled an average of 2.47 billion for June 2020, an increase of 15% over the same period last year. The family monthly average was 3.14 billion in June—up 14% year-over-year.
According to a Facebook statement about its results, the growth in usage reflects “increased engagement as people around the world sheltered in place and used our products to connect with the people and organizations they care about.” However, the company said it’s recently seen “signs of normalization” as lockdown measures around the world have eased. Meanwhile, total ad impressions in the second quarter increased 40% although the average ad price decreased.
“Our business has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and, like all companies, we are facing a period of unprecedented uncertainty in our business outlook,” Facebook said in a statement about its quarterly results. “We expect our business performance will be impacted by issues beyond our control, including the duration and efficacy of shelter-in-place orders, the effectiveness of economic stimuli around the world, and the fluctuations of currencies relative to the U.S. dollar.”
In July, Facebook has also dealt with a boycott over its practices and policies around moderating hate speech on the platform. The boycott—organized by civil rights groups including the NAACP and Anti-Defamation League—has been joined by hundreds of larger and smaller advertisers. Addressing the boycott on an earnings call with analysts, Zuckerberg said the company has agreed to an audit by the Media Ratings Council, and added that he’s “often troubled by the calls to go after internet advertising, especially during a time of such economic turmoil like we face today with Covid.”
“Some still seem to wrongly assume that our business is dependent on a few large advertisers, and while we value every single one of the businesses that use our platforms, the biggest part of our business is serving small businesses,” he said. “Our advertising is one of the most effective tools that businesses have to find customers to growth their businesses and create jobs.”
When an analyst on the call later asked how the boycott might be resolved, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said the company is still talking with civil rights groups and advertising trade organizations such as the Global Alliance for Responsible Media. She added that Facebook is “going to keep working hard at this, not because of advertiser pressure but because it’s the right thing to do.”
“It’s an interesting situation we find ourselves in because I think often times when companies are boycotted, it’s because they don’t agree with what the boycotters want,” she said. “And that’s not true at all here. We completely agree that we don’t want hate on our platforms and we stand firmly against it. We don’t benefit from hate speech. We never have. Users don’t want to see it, advertisers don’t want to be associated with it.”
By Marty Swant, Forbes Staff
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