Alphabet and YouTube Ad Revenue Is Impacted by Pandemic

In Q1 2020, YouTube reported $4.04 billion in ad revenue, up 33 percent from 2019. Last year, YouTube earned $15.15 billion in ad revenue, up 36 percent. Its parent company Alphabet — which first broke out numbers for YouTube in Q4 2019 — generated $41.16 billion in revenue, a 13 percent year-over-year growth, with an adjusted net income of $6.84 billion or $9.87 per share. Those figures exceeded analyst expectations for revenue of $40.38 billion, but missed its EPS of $10.33; shares rose 8+ percent in after-hours trading.

Variety reports that Alphabet chief financial officer Ruth Porat said that the company’s performance was strong in January and February, “but then in March we experienced a significant slowdown in ad revenues,” described as a “year-over-year percentage decline in the mid-teens.” She added that YouTube’s direct-response advertising enjoyed “substantial” growth over the entire quarter, but, in mid-March, brand advertising encountered “a headwind.”

She said that, by end of March, ad revenue growth “decelerated to a year-over-year growth rate in the high single digits,” noting that Q2 “will be a difficult one for our advertising business.” Although Porat wouldn’t provide Q2 guidance, she said that based on Google Search estimates from the end of March through last week, “we haven’t seen further deterioration in the percentage of year-on-year revenue declines.”

Porat also said she expects Alphabet’s advertising business to recover when the global economy “normalizes,” adding that it was “premature to comment on timing given all the variables here.” Alphabet chief executive Sundar Pichai stated that, although there were “very early signs of recovery … it is not clear how durable or monetizable this behavior will be.”

He added that overall Google usage has increased with the coronavirus pandemic, pointing to a dedicated COVID-19 hub that received 20+ billion views. YouTube debuted “fact-check information panels for U.S. users who search for specific conspiracy theories and misinformation about the coronavirus outbreak.”

Yahoo Finance reports Citigroup analyst Jason Bazinet said that, “results came out better than the market expected, with strong metrics in Google Cloud and YouTube.” It notes that the increase in Alphabet’s shares price puts the company on course “to wipe out big declines from earlier in the year.”

“The quarter is essentially showing that Google is a diversified business positioned to be even more diversified on the other side of the pandemic,” said Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Jitendra Waral. “The cloud division is becoming the guardian of Google’s growth amid uncertainty around ads.” Yahoo Finance adds that, “Google’s massive cash pile, a pledge to continue share buybacks, and a major effort to rein in costs also buoyed the stock.”

Porat also said that the company is “looking at levers we have to moderate spending,” which will include slowing hiring and cutting its own marketing budget. Although Google search has picked up, Porat reported that, “many of those queries were not commercial in nature, limiting the company’s ability to show ads.”