Wall Street expectations are higher and higher these days for Facebook—and that's just fine for the social networking king. On Wednesday, the company's first-quarter earnings crushed all expectations, and the stock was up more than 9% in after-hours trading as a result.
Facebook (FB) beat on revenue, posting $5.38 billion vs analyst expectations of $5.25 billion; it beat on earnings per share (EPS), with 77 cents per share, healthily above expectations of 62 cents per share; and most importantly for the company's future, it beat on monthly active users, bringing its total to 1.65 billion, where expectations were at 1.62 billion.
Pause and ponder that for a moment: 1.65 billion people use Facebook every month.
That user base tells the story of why Facebook is so strong. It can roll out whatever new features it pleases, and a very large number of people will at least try it, because it's from Facebook. It is more than a social media company now: it is the social media company (Yahoo Finance editor-in-chief Andy Serwer argues it is the only one that matters) and arguably one of the three most significant tech companies in the world.
On the earnings call, Facebook gave a few eye-popping numbers: Its users spend more than 50 minutes per day, on average, on Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger; video viewing on Instagram is up 40% from a year before; most importantly, mobile advertising is way up, which shows marketers have big faith in Facebook's reach.
Mobile ad revenue rose 75 percent to $4.2 billion, and made up 82 percent of overall ad revenue. That's up from 73 percent a year before—all led by video ads. Speaking of video, Instagram, which added video in 2013, now has 200,000 advertisers, COO Sheryl Sandberg said. (Facebook itself has 3 million.)
Investors and tech reporters alike would love to see exactly how much revenue is coming from Instagram, which Facebook bought for $1 billion (that now looks extremely cheap) in 2012, but Facebook doesn't break that out. Widely reported estimates suggest Instagram will do $1.5 billion in revenue this year. Facebook also hasn't made clear how it will monetize WhatsApp, which it acquired for nearly $22 billion in 2014. No matter: Facebook announced earlier this month that Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, combined, see three times as many messages sent per day than the global volume of SMS text messages. Make no mistake, the company will figure out how to monetize these services.
What's most important about Facebook right now is that it is working on a staggering number of different apps and services, and all of them are smart.
At its F8 developer conference earlier this month, Zuckerberg was all over the map. And shareholders, on the whole, appear to like it. Facebook announced corporate chat-bots inside the Facebook Messenger app to offer goods and services and respond to questions in a human way. It announced that it had built its own VR camera, the Surround 360. It announced a new open API for developers to plug in to Facebook Live. It opened up its Instant Articles platform to all publishers. It announced a new digital rights system to protect user-uploaded videos.
And Facebook had already announced other new ventures in the weeks leading up to F8, such as pushing live video like never before, offering the Live video tool to every user and moving the Live tab right to the center of its mobile app. Then, in the week after F8, it announced a new standalone, Snapchat-like camera app.
Its big bet on live video is a big challenge to smaller players like Twitter and Snapchat, which should absolutely be afraid by Facebook's effort to replace others as the go-to place for real-time reaction and content.
Tech earnings season has brought some key losers this month. Netflix earnings were mostly positive, but the stock dropped anyway because of disheartening subscription numbers outside the U.S. Twitter earnings disappointed. Apple earnings were "painful."
Facebook delivered because it wants to be and do practically everything (from certain perspectives, that is terrifying), and for now, its users are allowing it to try.
Daniel Roberts is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering sports business and technology.