Alphabet reveals YouTube’s revenue for the first time, distracting from the slowdown in its ads business

February 4, 2020, 1:17 AM UTC
Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

For the first time ever Monday, Alphabet released revenue numbers for YouTube, its video streaming service which raked in $15.1 billion in ads this year. The announcement tempered disappointment over slowing revenue for the company overall, as the company reported in its fourth quarter earnings, but not enough to keep Alphabet stock from slipping in after hours trading.

YouTube’s ad revenue represented 10% of the Alphabet’s overall business, and grew 36% year-over-year in 2019. The streaming service had the second highest growth rate of any of Alphabet’s businesses, placing as the runner-up to its suite of cloud computing services, Google Cloud Platform, which grew its revenue by 53% to $8.9 billion. This was also the first time Alphabet released revenue numbers for its cloud business. 

Sundar Pichai, who took over CEO of Google’s parent company in December, said he was “really pleased” with the growth of both the cloud and YouTube and gave analysts a taste of what’s ahead for the streaming service. 

Pichai said there’s “significantly more room” to monetize YouTube, on Monday’s earnings call, adding “a better commerce experience also is a big opportunity” for Alphabet.

The company’s disclosures come as the Alphabet tries to instill confidence in investors, after missing analysts’ fourth quarter revenue expectations, which sent the stock down more than 5%, trading at $1,407 per share, after the market closed Monday. The quarter represented Alphabet’s slowest growth rate of any quarter in the past four years. 

“The excitement over new disclosures probably put a mask on the weakness—but it was not a good quarter on the top line at all,” said Brent Thill, analyst at Jefferies. 

Alphabet reported $46.1 billion in revenue for the fourth quarter, falling short of the $46.9 billion of revenue analysts predicted. The company also missed revenue expectations for the year, reporting $161.9 billion compared to predictions of $162.8 billion. 

Alphabet said YouTube had 20 million subscribers paying for YouTube Music and YouTube Premium—an ad-free bundle of YouTube and YouTube Music—and more than 2 million subscribers on YouTube TV, the company’s streaming live television service. The company also said it had a $3 billion annual revenue run rate for YouTube subscriptions and non-ad revenue. 

Analysts were excited to have the new insights. “This is the best Google or Alphabet call I’ve been on since I’ve covered the company,” said Heather Bellini of Goldman Sachs. But Thill said the new numbers fell short of what he and others had expected from YouTube: $20 billion in revenue. 

Regardless, he agrees with Pichai that the service has much room to grow. YouTube could add a limit to how much content is consumed for free to bump how much money the company can make off each user, for instance.

“I see incredible opportunity and so many levers that can drive higher users and growth per user or dollars per user,” he said. “The message is there’s a ton of runway.”

But that doesn’t calm the rising concern about the slowdown in Google’s core advertising business, for which the company gave little explanation. Facebook similarly reported a slow in its ads business last week, citing changes in regulations, privacy settings across services, as well as its own features meant to give users more control over their data. 

“One quarter isn’t a trend,” Thill said. But “when you have two behemoth vendors in advertising show a major slowdown … you say, ‘Hold on, what’s going on here?”

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