Are Meta’s Problems as Bad As They Seem for Advertisers?
Just when you think things couldn’t possibly get worse for Meta, along comes another disastrous earnings announcement. On October 26, Meta, the parent of Facebook and Instagram, announced third-quarter earnings characterized by declining revenue and profits.
Quarterly revenue was $27.7 billion, down more than 4 percent from a year ago, after Meta posted a 1 percent decrease last quarter. Advertising revenue came in at $27.2 billion, down nearly 4 percent year-over-year (although that figure beat analysts’ estimates of $26.9 billion). Since advertising represents 98.2 percent of the company’s total revenue, the revenue drop is especially worrisome for Meta.
So, what’s causing the meltdown?
The biggest factor: diminishing demand for ad products caused by market uncertainty. In a call with investors, CFO Dave Wehner cited “weak advertising demand, which we believe continues to be impacted by the uncertain and volatile macroeconomic landscape.” CEO Mark Zuckerberg added that “. . . it’s not clear that the economy has stabilized yet so we’re planning our budget somewhat more conservatively.” As a result, Meta predicted that ad revenues will be $30 billion to $32.5 billion for the fourth quarter, below analysts’ expectations of $32.2 billion. (That level would represent another decline from a year ago, when total revenue was $33.67 billion.)
The TikTok Factor
The company, like Google, also faces rising competition from TikTok, whose popular short-form videos have generated a sharp increase in advertising revenue. According to Statista, TikTok generated $4 billion in advertising revenue in 2021, a figure that is expected to double by 2024 and triple by 2026. Digiday reported recently that ad agencies are shifting content creation from Instagram and YouTube to TikTok. In April, Insider Intelligence predicted that TikTok’s ad revenue will grow 184 percent to nearly $6 billion in 2023 (that amount tops Twitter and Snap combined).
To fight TikTok, Meta has given priority to the development and growth of Reels, its short-form video format on Facebook and Instagram. Meta is now seeing 140 billion Reels plays across Facebook and Instagram each day, which is a 50 percent increase from six months ago, according to Zuckerberg.
But Reels doesn’t monetize as effectively as the company’s other types of content. So, as Meta pivots toward showing more short-form video, Meta is taking a quarterly revenue headwind of more than $500 million, Zuckerberg told investors. Meta expects to get to a more neutral place with this shift within the next 12 to 18 months.
“As Reels grows, we’re displacing revenue from higher-monetized surfaces,” Zuckerberg told investors. “That’s clearly the right thing to do.”
The Apple Factor
Meta continues to grapple with the fall-out of Apple’s privacy controls, known as App Tracking Transparency (ATT). Meta said its average ad price decreased 18 percent on the year, as it adjusts to Apple’s changes that make it harder for Meta to track users and serve them personalized advertising. In the same quarter last year, the average price per ad climbed 22 percent.
But Meta also said that the blow to ad revenue caused by ATT is diminishing. Per CFO Dave Wehner, “Consistent with our expectations, the headwind to year-over-year growth from Apple’s ATT changes diminished in Q3 as we lapped the first full quarter post the launch of iOS14.5.”
But Apple isn’t done punishing Meta. Apple recently changed its App Store terms to take a portion of social-media advertising revenue. The policy change requires users and advertisers to make an in-app purchase when they pay to boost posts in apps like TikTok and Meta’s Instagram. Apple takes a commission of as much as 30 percent on in-app purchases, meaning a company like Meta would lose a portion of its ad revenue to the iPhone maker.
The company also faced stiff criticism from investors over its continued push into the metaverse, which has cost the company billions of dollars. Although the company’s metaverse investments technically do not affect its ad revenue – they’re more of a drain on profits than anything else – they have raised concerns that Meta is taking its eye off its core social media growth engine in the web 2.0 world.
The Good News
But on the bright side, Meta reported that:
- Daily Active Users (DAUs) for the quarter were: 1.98 billion versus 1.98 billion expected, according to StreetAccount. That was up from 1.97 billion three months ago.
- Monthly Active Users (MAUs): 2.96 billion versus 2.94 billion expected, according to StreetAccount
Meta said Instagram now claims more than 2 billion monthly active users, while WhatsApp’s user base has surpassed 2 billion daily active users, with North America being the messaging app’s fastest-growing region.
What This Means for Advertisers
So, what does all this mean for advertisers? Well, now might be an opportune time to advertise on Meta, with its user base being strong and average ad prices decreasing. The company is rolling out new ad products to improve the monetization of Reels, and a new “Performance 5” framework, which is a set of five data-proven tactics that can help to improve advertising performance on Meta platforms amid tighter privacy controls. For instance, broad targeting consists of an automated targeting approach that reportedly produces better results for Facebook and Instagram ads than more refined, more niche audience approaches.
Meta, like its competitors, faces some difficult times amid economic uncertainty. But businesses that are taking the long view with their advertising efforts may turn out to be the winners so long as they don’t push the brakes on their online advertising efforts.
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