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Twitter’s revenue numbers reflect general shift of web from desktop to phone

October 4, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
Social media giant Twitter says it has 100 million daily users who create 500 million tweets a day. The company's new IPO filing gives the the world its first look at the business-side of Twitter. Hari Sreenivasan talks to Zach Seward of Quartz about the company's plan to offer shares and whether investors will bite.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And now to a second tech story, this about the public launch of Twitter.

The social media giant announced late yesterday that it plans to raise $1 billion by offering shares soon through what’s called an IPO. Started just seven years ago, the company also revealed that its 100 million daily users are creating 500 million tweets a day.

Hari Sreenivasan has a closer look at that and what’s behind the buzz of this IPO launch.

HARI SREENIVASAN: I’m joined now by Zach Seward of Quartz, who’s been covering this closely.

So, for a lot of people who don’t tweet, don’t use Twitter, why is this IPO such a big deal?

ZACH SEWARD, Quartz: Well, I think before the IPO filing, we knew about Twitter, the cultural phenomenon. Now we suddenly know a lot about Twitter, the business, how much money it’s making, or, more accurately, isn’t making.

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It lost about $79 million last year. That’s one of many figures we didn’t know before this IPO filing landed.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, what else have we learned from the filing?

ZACH SEWARD: It has about 215 million users, 49 million of those users in the United States. And it makes most of its money from advertising. Specifically, 85 percent of Twitter’s revenue comes from ads. The other 15 percent is from data licensing. And we learned its ticker symbol. It is going to trade under the ticker symbol TWTR.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, what is that 15 percent? Are they basically making money off of the users or us, and what kind of data do we generate that’s actually valuable to an advertiser?

ZACH SEWARD: That’s a good question.

They license the stream of all tweets, everyone’s tweets, more than anyone could ever read, to marketers and to analytics firms that try to analyze the data and give it back to, among other people, advertisers that see value in what people are tweeting about, are they talking about certain TV shows, that sort of thing.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, another nugget that I had read about was that 65 percent of the revenue is coming from mobile. So, what does that say about the evolution of the online activity that’s happening on mobile vs. a laptop or desktop?

ZACH SEWARD: Well, it wasn’t long ago Facebook was going public, and at that time Facebook disclosed it was making zero percent of its revenue from mobile. As you said, now Twitter says it’s making 65 percent of its money from mobile, huge difference, and it’s as much about the general shift that the Web is making from desktop computers to smartphones.

It does speak well for Twitter. It means that they’re well-positioned for that shift and it means that the huge advertising business that it built up in just the past two years is pretty much majority mobile.

HARI SREENIVASAN: OK. So, and looking at that advertising business, even though there are all these ads that they’re serving, are the prices of ads staying high or has it gotten cheaper?

ZACH SEWARD: They’re not. And that was a disclosure that Twitter had to add as it submitted these — this IPO filing confidentially originally to the SEC, and got feedback from regulators there.

As it went through those drafts, one disclosure it added was that its ad rates are declining. Now, Twitter says that’s because it has more ads to show, just more people using the service, so by nature they have more supply, it’s just going to be cheaper. But it is a danger.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, this is something that you said earlier, that they’re not profitable. So even with this all this money that they’re making, they have grown their revenue a huge amount year over year, but they’re still not profitable, never have been. So why would someone want to buy a stock that has no path toward profitability yet?

ZACH SEWARD: This is something that understandably confuses a lot of people. If you’re going to be investing in Twitter, you’re making a bet on future profitability, obviously.

You’re making a bet that it can grow well beyond the number of users it has currently, that it can show those users more advertising, and that it — probably that it can charge more for the advertising that it shows. If you don’t feel confident in any of those things happening, then it’s a bad bet. But, you know, it’s hardly the only technology company which early on showed a lot of strong growth and profitability came long afterwards.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Obviously, a lot of people are considering this in the context of that Facebook IPO that you mentioned. Was there a softening of the IPO market after Facebook’s not-so-great start?

ZACH SEWARD: Yes, I think Facebook’s IPO was seen as a bit of a debacle. It wasn’t pulled off well.

And then for the longest time, Twitter — excuse me — Facebook was trading under the price at which it had opened at its IPO. Now it’s well above that price and is trading at record highs, so Twitter might have timed it really well. Social media stocks in general — LinkedIn is another publicly traded social network — are doing really well right now and Twitter is trying to jump on that bandwagon.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, who gets the most amount of wealth created from this? Obviously, some of the co-founders and some of the early investors. But this is a billion-dollar IPO.

ZACH SEWARD: Indeed.

The only billionaire that it appears will be made from this IPO is Ev Williams, one of the founders of Twitter, who still owns a 12 percent stake in the company, it was disclosed in the filing. But there are indeed lots of people who stand to make a killing, venture capital firms and other people who are not founders, but included early employees and people who picked up stakes along the way.

HARI SREENIVASAN: OK. And, finally, what’s next? When do they take this on the road, so to speak, for investors and any idea when they will actually come to market?

ZACH SEWARD: Twitter’s intent is to go public as fast as it can, part in order to avoid the Facebook debacle. At least that’s what people close to the IPO tell me. By law, it has to wait three weeks, and then it can go on a road show to market itself to investors, which will be probably truncated. They want to get this over and done with and be a publicly traded company before Thanksgiving.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Zach Seward from Quartz, thanks so much.

ZACH SEWARD: My pleasure. Thanks.