It has been a huge quarter for Facebook. In the last three (fiscal) months the company has bought messaging app WhatsApp for $US19 billion and virtual reality headset maker Oculus VR for $US2 billion. It has opened the door for video advertisers, and begun carving out its messaging business into a separate app, Messenger. Lastly, the company has begun rolling out an off-Facebook advertising network.
At the same time, Zuckerberg has begun to outline his vision for the future of Facebook, “unbundling the big blue app.”
But high drama isn’t the same as good business, and Zuckerberg ought to answer these questions on his call with Wall Street tonight:
1. How much cash do you have left?
There have been two big deals totaling a value of $US21 billion since the last call. But there was only $US3.3 billion in cash on the balance sheet at the end of last year. The cash portion of the WhatsApp and Oculus deals totals a possible $US4.7 billion. Facebook almost certainly doesn’t have a liquidity problem, but nonetheless, the spending has been dramatic and investors need to see the cash management plan. Will it restrict Facebook’s use of cash in the future?
2. How much is WhatsApp going to cost before it starts generating revenue?
Zuckerberg has been a hands-off acquirer, in the sense that he prefers to let acquisitions grow their user bases and perfect their products before they need to generate sales. WhatsApp has no intention of selling advertising in the next several years, its CEO has said. But that luxury won’t last forever. Some guidance on whether WhatsApp — and its 500 million users — will be profitable or a sinkhole is appropriate.
3. Why have we not seen any video ads yet?
Autoplay video in the Facebook news feed is potentially one of the biggest needle-movers for Facebook revenue. Yet their launch has been delayed for nearly a whole year. What the heck, Facebook?
4. Do you actually know what you are doing with Oculus?
Until recently, Facebook’s acquisitions had all been obvious fits with the existing company. When it acquired social location app Glancee, for instance, it turned into Nearby Friends, a newly launched location feature. Oculus, however, is a hardware product not a software product. It’s a gaming device not a social device. And it’s on a platform that does not link with Facebook. Of course, it’s an impressive product that blows away anyone who experiences it. But being a good manager of a social network is not the same thing as being a good manager of a virtual reality platform. What’s the plan for Oculus, and does it make sense?
5. How successful are the ads on Instagram?
Instagram hit 200 million users and is threatening to eclipse Twitter any day now. But we hardly see any ads on Instagram. That’s great for users but lousy for EPS. Does this product show any signs of financial life?
6. Does the Messenger plan make any sense at all?
As far as we can tell, the Messenger app competes head to head with WhatsApp. If Messenger is successful, it might cannibalise WhatsApp. Currently, Facebook is forcing users to use Messenger by ending the message feature inside Facebook if they have the Messenger app. The ultimate goal is to make Messenger a standalone message platform outside Facebook. This sounds duplicative of WhatsApp at best, and competitive at worst. We need reassurance here.
7. How much is Internet.org going to cost?
Zuckerberg has said that to get the users Facebook needs to grow in the future, Facebook and its wireless carriers must connect the world, free of charge. This won’t be cheap. It would be nice to see some numbers applied to the pipe dreams about drones, lasers and satellites.
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