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The TikTok challenge: Meta's revenue drops for the first time as competition intensifies among social media platforms

The TikTok challenge: Meta's revenue drops for the first time as competition intensifies among social media platforms

FILE PHOTO: Facebook's new rebrand logo Meta is seen on smartpone in front of displayed logo of Facebook, Messenger, Intagram, Whatsapp, Oculus in this illustration picture taken October 28, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

Meta Platforms issued a gloomy forecast after recording its first-ever quarterly drop in revenue on Wednesday (Jul 27), with recession fears and competitive pressures weighing on its digital ads sales.

Shares of the Menlo Park, California-based company were down about 4.6 per cent in extended trading.

The company said it expects third-quarter revenue to fall to US$26 billion and US$28.5 billion, which would make it a second year-over-year drop in a row. Analysts were expecting US$30.52 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Total revenue, which consists almost entirely of ad sales, fell 1 per cent to US$28.8 billion in the second quarter ended Jun 30, from US$29.1 billion last year. The figure slightly missed Wall Street's projections of US$28.9 billion, according to Refinitiv.

The company, which operates the world's largest social media platform, reported mixed results for user growth.

Monthly active users on flagship social network Facebook came in slightly under analyst expectations at 2.93 billion in the second quarter, an increase of 1 per cent year over year, while daily active users handily beat estimates at 1.97 billion.

Like many global companies, Meta is facing some revenue pressure from the strong dollar, as sales in foreign currencies amount to less in dollar terms. Meta said it expected a 6 per cent revenue growth headwind in the third quarter, based on current exchange rates.

Still, the Meta results also suggest that fortunes in online ads sales may be diverging between search and social media players, with the latter impacted more severely as ad buyers reel in spending.

Alphabet, the world's largest digital ad platform, reported a rise in quarterly revenue on Tuesday, with sales from its biggest moneymaker - Google search - topping investor expectations.

Snap and Twitter both missed sales expectations last week and warned of an ad market slowdown in coming quarters, sparking a broad sell-off across the sector.

On top of economic pressures, Meta's core business is also experiencing unique strain as it competes with short video app TikTok for users' time and adjusts its ads business to privacy controls rolled out by Apple last year.

The company is simultaneously carrying out several expensive overhauls as a result, revamping its core apps and boosting its ad targeting with AI, while also investing heavily in a longer-term bet on "metaverse" hardware and software.

Meta executives told investors they were making progress in replacing ad dollars lost as a result of the Apple changes but said it was being offset by the economic slowdown.

They added that Reels, a short video product Meta is increasingly inserting into users' feeds to compete with TikTok, was now generating more than US$1 billion annually in revenue.

However, Reels cannibalizes more profitable content that users could otherwise see and will continue to be a headwind on profits through 2022 before eventually boosting income, executives told analysts on Wednesday.

"They are being greatly affected by everything," Bokeh Capital Partners' Kim Forrest said, referring to the economic slowdown as well as competition from TikTok and Apple.

"Meta has a problem because they're chasing TikTok and if the Kardashians are talking about how they don't like Instagram ... Meta should really pay attention to that."

On Monday, two of Instagram's biggest users, Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner, both shared a meme imploring the company to abandon its shift to TikTok-style content suggestions and "make Instagram Instagram again."

CEO Mark Zuckerberg did not appear to be swayed, however.

About 15 per cent of content on Facebook and Instagram is currently recommended by AI from accounts users do not actively follow, and that percentage will double by the end of 2023, he told investors on the call.

For now, at least, the metaverse part of Meta's business remains largely theoretical. In the second quarter, Meta reported US$218 million in non-ad revenue, which includes payments fees and sales of devices like its Quest virtual reality headsets, down from $497 million last year.

Its Reality Labs unit, which is responsible for developing metaverse-oriented technology like the VR headsets, reported sales of US$452 million, down from US$695 million in the first quarter.

Although Meta has recently slowed investments as cost pressures increased, executives reassured investors it was still on track to release a mixed-reality headset called Project Cambria later this year, focused on professionals.

Meta broke out the Reality Labs segment in its results for the first time earlier this year, when it revealed the unit had lost US$10.2 billion in 2021.

Its second-quarter operating profit margin fell to 29 per cent from 43 per cent as costs rose sharply and revenue dipped.

In November, Chief Financial Officer David Wehner will become Meta's first chief strategy officer. Susan Li, Meta's current vice president of finance, will become CFO.

Source: Reuters/lk


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