Author: Matthew Lynley

Pinterest gives advertisers a way to show promoted videos that take up the screen

Pinterest is continuing its push into video as a potential avenue for advertisers by today saying that it will offer advertisers a promoted video tool that takes up the width of the entire screen.

While Pinterest normally offers users a grid that they can flip through — compressing a lot of content into a small space — taking up the full width of the screen with a promoted video would offer advertisers considerable real estate if they’re looking to get the attention of users. Pinterest pitches itself to advertisers as a strong alternative to Facebook or Google, giving marketers a way to reach an audience that behaves a little more differently than when on those other platforms and coming to Pinterest to discover new things.

The company also said it’s hired Tina Pukonen as an entertainment strategist and Mike Chuthakieo as an industry sales lead. Pinterest says more than 42 million people in the U.S. come to Pinterest for entertainment ideas, and that potential tool offers an interesting niche opportunity for advertisers to capture the attention of a user for a product — say, a movie — that needs a lot of awareness marketing. Getting a user’s attention for just a few seconds can be more than enough time to at least plant the seed of potentially buying a product down the line.

It’s that argument that what gives Pinterest potential value for advertisers. The company offers an array of advertising products designed to target users at all phases of a potential buying cycle, whether that’s just clicking around on the platform looking for ideas down to actually saving an idea or buying it — through Pinterest or through a referral. Most of Pinterest’s content consists of images and other content from brands or businesses. That makes sense given that it’s a place where people tend to go to plan life events, whether that’s parties, or weddings, or home improvement — and those events center around products that they may in theory one day buy. All the while Pinterest is accumulating a lot of different plays at advertising products and an experienced level of senior hires, including hiring its first COO Françoise Brougher, who was the former VP of SMB global sales and operations at Google and business lead at Square.

Pinterest, interestingly, seems to have been a little more tolerant of making what might seem like small design changes but may have substantial user implications. The company added a tab for followers at the bottom of the app, shaking up what is often seen as a core navigation bar for any app. But the company continues to grow, crossing 200 million monthly active users in September last year.

Netflix magic market number larger than big cable company’s magic market number

Netflix’s market cap is now larger than Comcast, which is pretty much just a symbolic thing given that the companies are valued very differently but is like one of those moments where Apple was larger than Exxon and may be some kind of watershed moment for technology. Or not.

A couple notes on this largely symbolic and not really important thing:

  • Netflix users are going up. That’s a number that people look at. It’s why Netflix’s magic market number is going up.
  • People are cutting cable TV cords. Netflix has no cable TV cords. It does, however, require a cord connected to the internet. So it still needs a cord of some sort, unless everything goes wireless.
  • Netflix is spending a lot of money on content. People consume content. Cable is also content, but it is expensive content. Also, Comcast will start bundling in Netflix into its cable subscriptions.
  • They have a very different price-to-earnings ratio. Comcast is valued as a real company. Netflix is valued as a… well, something that is growing that will maybe be a business more massive than Comcast. Maybe.
  • Comcast makes much more money than Netflix. Netflix had $3.7 billion in revenue in Q1. Comcast had $22.8 billion and free cash flow of $3.1 billion. Netflix says it will have -$3 billion to -$4 billion in free cash flow in 2018.

Anyway, Netflix will report its next earnings in a couple months, and this number is definitely going to change, because it’s pretty arbitrary given that Netflix is not valued like other companies. The stock price doesn’t swing as much as Bitcoin, but things can be pretty random.

In the mean time, Riverdale Season 2 is on Netflix, so maybe that’s why it’s more valuable than Comcast . See you guys in a few hours.

Gfycat ramps up its focus on game clips and highlights as it hits 180M monthly users

Gfycat is already a pretty popular host for lots of content like short clips from shows and movies, but there’s also a pretty substantial store of content centered around gaming — which is why the company is starting to put some extra focus on it.

Gfycat, which is centered around creator tools to make those short-form video clips and GIFs, said it’s going to create an interface specifically designed for gamers. Called “Gfycat for gaming,” the startup hopes to ride both the wave of ever-omnipresent GIFs getting shared around the internet and popular, highly shareable game titles like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Rocket League. GIFs serve as a pretty good vehicle for delivering highlight reel clips for those games, which is why it’s going to be putting some extra focus on that audience. Gaming is one of the most popular verticals on Gfycat, CEO Richard Rabbat said.

“As we were looking at different verticals, gaming is such a strong vertical, and we wanted gamers to get an experience that just really speaks to what they’re looking for,” he said. “We wanted to just focus on that as opposed to content that was much more mixed. You see a lot of teams or players that will play for hours, but that exciting moment was like 10 seconds or 20 seconds. They want to capture them and keep them, to chat about them, and share them.”

While the platforms are certainly a big component of this, creator tools for getting that content onto the Internet is also a pretty big segment. That’s what Gfycat focuses on, and the company says it has 180 million monthly active users, which is up from 130 million monthly active users in October last year. The service has more than 500 million page views every month, Rabbat said.

There are two changes that are coming with this update: first, there will be a direct home for gaming highlights on Gfycat, where users can follow creators in that area; second, the time limit for Gfycat clips is growing to around 60 seconds instead of just 15, which is a soft change the company made in the past few months. Both are geared toward making content more shareable in order to grab those highlights, which might not just fall into 15 second buckets. Down the line, the company will start working on subscribing to specific channel.

“A lot of gaming moments are created in 10 or 15 seconds,” Rabbat said. “Some of the gamers have been asking us for a longer period. We moved from 15 seconds to 60 seconds so people can share exciting experiences that take a little more time. GIFs are not only just a moment but also it’s a bit of storytelling. We wanted people to have the ability to do that storytelling.”

GIFs are already a big market, and there has even been some activity from the major players looking to dive further into that type of content. Earlier this month, Google acquired Tenor, a GIF platform that has its own keyboard and integrates with a variety of messenger services — even ones like LinkedIn. That a tool like Tenor or Giphy has grown to encompass all those messaging tools is just a further example of how much of an opportunity platforms centered around GIFs have.

The short-form video clips, as Gfycat likes to label them, are a good form factor for compressing a lot of information into a unit of content that’s easy to share among friends or an audience on the Internet. Rather than just sending a text message, a GIF can convey some element of emotion alongside just the typical information or response some user is trying to achieve. That’s led to a big boom for those companies, with Tenor hitting 12 billion GIF searches every month as an example.

Twitter beats expectations with $665M in revenue amid its turnaround hopes

It looks like Twitter, the oft-beleaguered social network that’s still worth more than Snap, will still hold that status for a little longer after delivering a stronger-than-expected quarter this morning.

Twitter’s monthly active users barely grew — though it did, indeed, grow — by around 3% worldwide year-over-year, and is now at around 336 million monthly active users. That isn’t crazy growth or size in the scope of how large Facebook is, but it still means that Twitter isn’t losing those users. It’s going to be re-entering a critical time heading into another year of elections. All this is going to be critical to its story as it tries to sell a turnaround on Wall Street, where it at one point was worth more than double it is now.

The company beat out Wall Street’s expectations by delivering $655 million in revenue, leading to a small spike in the stock this morning by about 5%. Here’s the final scorecard:

  • Monthly active users: 336 million, up 3% year-over-year and compared to around 334 million expected
  • U.S. MAUs: 69 million, about flat year-over-year
  • International MAUs: 267 million, up 4% year-over-year
  • Q1 Revenue: $665 million, compared to $608 million Wall Street estimates and up 21% year-over-year
  • Q1 Earnings: 16 cents per share, compared to 12 cents per share estimates

While all of this looks pretty strong, Twitter had a pretty bumpy but somewhat positive 2017 on Wall Street toward the back end of the year. It’s been making significant moves to try to curb abuse and harassment and has actually been tweaking the product in some ways, even if they don’t particularly feel earth-shattering. Expanding the character count from 140 to 280 characters might not seem like a lot, but it does compress more information into that small space, and any bit of engagement helps Twitter in the long run sustain itself.

Late last year, Twitter passed Snap in market cap. While this is largely symbolic, it’s kind of a snapshot of the pressure both networks are under to show that advertisers are actually interested in a platform beyond Facebook. Both companies are pretty volatile and have to sell Wall Street on growth stories. Twitter has often been slammed for being difficult to use and having a lot of problems related to harassment and abuse, and it’s spent much of the last year trying to fix those problems.

(Interestingly, Twitter’s stock-based compensation expense — an expense that’s been hounding Twitter for some time — increasingly seems to be getting under control. It’s down to around $73 million in the first quarter, compared to $117 million in the first quarter last year.)

While it won’t be the size of Facebook, Twitter has to position itself as a unique spot where advertisers can reach an audience that is in a different kind of behavioral mode than they are on Facebook. Twitter has sought to specialize in a live feed of information, whether that’s trying to rejigger the timeline to surface up important information or investing more in video. That, theoretically, means that Twitter could sell itself as a platform with a higher level of engagement in certain activities — something that Snap has done in order to position itself in a positive way for Wall Street.

All this has given Twitter a way to show that while its revenue is not the scale of Facebook, it’s a different kind of revenue, and one that might have a lot of value for advertisers. If it can do that, and continue to scale up its user base over time and then move into significant news events like an elections cycle, it might be able to pick up more and more advertisers. There was a point when we were talking about how its advertising revenue had completely stalled and was headed into a tailspin, but it looks like it’s actually gotten that under control.

That’s also why Twitter loves to show this chart and talk about it on its quarterly earnings releases, which has only one of the two required axes in order to be a chart. The chart shows year-over-year daily active user growth, but the company doesn’t like to offer some kind of basis for how many of its users are actually super-active DAUs. But, nonetheless, here it is in all its glory:

Facebook has a new job posting calling for chip designers

Facebook has posted a job opening looking for an expert in ASIC and FPGA, two custom silicon designs that companies can gear toward specific use cases — particularly in machine learning and artificial intelligence.

There’s been a lot of speculation in the valley as to what Facebook’s interpretation of custom silicon might be, especially as it looks to optimize its machine learning tools — something that CEO Mark Zuckerberg referred to as a potential solution for identifying misinformation on Facebook using AI. The whispers of Facebook’s customized hardware range depending on who you talk to, but generally center around operating on the massive graph Facebook possesses around personal data. Most in the industry speculate that it’s being optimized for Caffe2, an AI infrastructure deployed at Facebook, that would help it tackle those kinds of complex problems.

FPGA is designed to be a more flexible and modular design, which is being championed by Intel as a way to offer the ability to adapt to a changing machine learning-driven landscape. The downside that’s commonly cited when referring to FPGA is that it is a niche piece of hardware that is complex to calibrate and modify, as well as expensive, making it less of a cover-all solution for machine learning projects. ASIC is similarly a customized piece of silicon that a company can gear toward something specific, like mining cryptocurrency.

Facebook’s director of AI research tweeted about the job posting this morning, noting that he previously worked in chip design:

While the whispers grow louder and louder about Facebook’s potential hardware efforts, this does seem to serve as at least another partial data point that the company is looking to dive deep into custom hardware to deal with its AI problems. That would mostly exist on the server side, though Facebook is looking into other devices like a smart speaker. Given the immense amount of data Facebook has, it would make sense that the company would look into customized hardware rather than use off-the-shelf components like those from Nvidia.

(The wildest rumor we’ve heard about Facebook’s approach is that it’s a diurnal system, flipping between machine training and inference depending on the time of day and whether people are, well, asleep in that region.)

Most of the other large players have found themselves looking into their own customized hardware. Google has its TPU for its own operations, while Amazon is also reportedly working on chips for both training and inference. Apple, too, is reportedly working on its own silicon, which could potentially rip Intel out of its line of computers. Microsoft is also diving into FPGA as a potential approach for machine learning problems.

Still, that it’s looking into ASIC and FPGA does seem to be just that — dipping toes into the water for FPGA and ASIC. Nvidia has a lot of control over the AI space with its GPU technology, which it can optimize for popular AI frameworks like TensorFlow. And there are also a large number of very well-funded startups exploring customized AI hardware, including Cerebras Systems, SambaNova Systems, Mythic, and Graphcore (and that isn’t even getting into the large amount of activity coming out of China). So there are, to be sure, a lot of different interpretations as to what this looks like.

One significant problem Facebook may face is that this job opening may just sit up in perpetuity. Another common criticism of FPGA as a solution is that it is hard to find developers that specialize in FPGA. While these kinds of problems are becoming much more interesting, it’s not clear if this is more of an experiment than Facebook’s full all-in on custom hardware for its operations.

But nonetheless, this seems like more confirmation of Facebook’s custom hardware ambitions, and another piece of validation that Facebook’s data set is becoming so increasingly large that if it hopes to tackle complex AI problems like misinformation, it’s going to have to figure out how to create some kind of specialized hardware to actually deal with it.

A representative from Facebook did not yet return a request for comment.

Netflix nears a $150B market cap as its subscribers continue to balloon

Just last quarter Netflix passed a $100 billion market cap — and we might already be talking about it as a $150 billion company before too long with yet another big financial quarter that sent its stock soaring.

Netflix, again, beat out some expectations Wall Street held for the first quarter and provided a pretty good outlook for the next quarter as well, where it said it expected to add around 6.2 million new subscribers. In the first quarter, Netflix added 7.41 million new subscribers — around 2 million of them domestic and the rest internationally. The company continued to see some pretty strong streaming revenue growth, which was up around 43% year-over-year in the first quarter this year, to around $3.6 billion.

With all this, Netflix now has nearly 119 million paid streaming memberships — and it wasn’t all that long when Netflix finally said just over two years ago that it would begin opening up in hundreds of new countries internationally. The company’s shares are up around 6% in extended trading, sending its market cap up north of $140 billion. And all this subscriber growth, too, comes before we’re seeing a new tie-up with Comcast’s cable subscriptions that may end up driving that even more. As usual, Netflix expects to lose a ton of money and says it expects between -$3 billion to -$4 billion in free cash flow, but that’s usually not what investors are looking for.

One of the big questions Netflix still has right now is what kind of price tag it will carry as a tack-on to a Comcast subscription. Earlier this week, the companies announced that Comcast would bundle Netflix in to its cable subscriptions, offering yet another entry point for Netflix to ferret up potential consumers that haven’t quite cut the cord yet but still might be interested in Netflix’s content. Netflix normally carries a price tag of around $13.99, but the companies have not said what its price will be as part of a cable bundle yet.

Following Netflix’s last earnings report — which it, as you might expect, included some blowout subscriber numbers — the company rocketed past a market cap of $100 billion. Since then it’s only been an upward trend for Netflix, which prior to its first-quarter report was worth more than $130 billion. Despite increasing spend on original content, that subscriber number is still mostly where it gets its market value because it’s a forward predictor of its revenue.

Netflix late last year said it expected to spend between $7 billion and $8 billion on original content this year, a number that seems to periodically get an upward revision and is still a dramatic step up from 2017. The company in its report today said it expected to spend between $7.5 billion and $8 billion on original content, and expects that marketing and content spend to weight toward the second half of 2018.

But it has to continue to invest in original content because it is a way to attract new subscribers, and also because it’s content that it can more easily distribute across different geographies and itself has control of the rights and what happens to it. It relies on shows like Stranger Things or Altered Carbon to bring in new users, which then hopefully stick around and eventually help recoup the cost of those shows — and then the cycle starts anew.

Pinterest aims for products from the store down your street as its next big ad business

Pinterest is known for having, and promoting, a lot of business content. It’s actually a majority of the content, and it’s usually from some of the most well-known brands that feed into the kinds of sometimes dream-level wants and needs of its users.

And while Pinterest a majority of Pinterest’s potential is locked up there, the company has increasingly turned its gaze toward smaller and smaller businesses to try to entice users with local content — including that clothing store right down your street. That’s part of the reasoning behind Pinterest’s Propel program, which it started a year ago to work with small businesses that really either didn’t know what they were doing, or had just never done it before. In another step toward that goal, Pinterest has hired Matt Hogle to be the global head of small business.

Hogle spent 9 years at Facebook, working with small businesses and will be part of the effort for the company to try to find the right set of tools and strategies in place to appeal to small businesses as it starts to ramp it into a significant portion of its revenue. The number of small businesses on Pinterest has increased by around 50% year-over-year, the company said, and it looks to continue to refine a kind of hybrid strategy that mixes platforms and interactions with real people in order to entice those businesses. That’s important for, say, a local clothing store that only has one store and a limited online shop, but has products that would perform well on their own as content on Pinterest — and could quickly add revenue if they started advertising on it.

“We, as an ads business, know what customers’ business objectives are, and we capture that at the early stages,” Pinterest head of global sales Jon Kaplan said. “We know what they’re targeting, how they’re targeting, who, and we know the creative best practices. We should be able in the very near future to take all these elements and say, oh this is your objective, we’ll obfuscate all this complexity and hit a target [return on ad spend] you have. We’re not far. We’ve obfuscated a lot of the levers one can pull in Propel.”

Propel, for now, is adopting an increasingly popular human/digital approach for smaller businesses that are looking to advertise for the first time on Pinterest. If they have no experience whatsoever, or don’t even know what to do, Pinterest’s goal is to serve as a resource for best practices when it comes to creative content down to where to target it. Pinterest is increasingly rolling out more self-serve tools with more robust targeting and tracking, but the kind of small businesses — the sum of which could eventually account for a big chunk of its revenue — that Facebook has snapped up with the prospect of getting in front of the exact right people at the right time. The company says it will be rolling out the “promote” button, which allows advertisers to click a button on a pin to quickly spin up a campaign, to Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and the UK in the next coming weeks.

In the end, Pinterest still has 200 million monthly active users, which is absolutely dwarfed by Facebook’s billions of users. But at the same time, Pinterest may be able to capitalize on the good will that Facebook has torched in light of its massive privacy scandal in which information on as many as 87 million users ended up in the hands of a research firm without authorization or permission. Facebook can prove a return on spend, but it can’t at the moment prove that it’ll be able to keep doing the same things that get that return on spend now that the Internet is revolting against Facebook for its massive breach of trust. (Hogle, to be clear, joined before details on the Cambridge Analytica scandal began pouring in.)

Pinterest’s value to advertisers is that it’s able to capture a potential customer when they are just a user clicking (or tapping) around Pinterest looking for ideas. Whether planning life events or just looking for wardrobe suggestions, Pinterest is able to go to advertisers and say they can catch them in those discovery stages and then stick the right ad in front of them to get their attention. Then, the service can follow the user all the way from when they are actually interested in doing something, searching for what to do, and eventually saving that product — or buying it.

It’s that potential value for advertisers that’s taken it to a $12.5 billion valuation in its most recent financing round. But while Pinterest is probably still a sort of curiosity buy for larger advertisers and brands, the challenge has been to chase down the businesses that don’t have huge marketing budgets and might not even be considering Pinterest as a potential advertising platform. After all, the playbook for Facebook is robust and there are plenty of success stories, and the same is true for Google. But at the same time, that bespoke coffee shop down on Valencia Street in San Francisco may have products that line up perfectly for a Pinterest user that’s looking for a holiday gift down the line.

“Over the coming nine months, into 2019, I think we’re gonna continue to invest in ways that make it easy for our small businesses to grow with us,” Hodle said. “Small businesses are unique in the sense that they don’t have the time or energy or resources — the CEO might also be the HR person and the marketing person, and so on. We need to make it extremely lightweight and seamless. At the end of the day, if we can’t provide value and deliver on the money they spend with us and demonstrate the value that’s created there — sales being that number one performance indicator for these companies — then we’re failing. The things we’re gonna continue to build are ways to make that process as easy and seamless.”

“Small businesses add disproportionate value to Pinners and our ad ecosystem,” Hogle said. “I truly believe that small businesses are part of the fabric of every community, they’re the engine that drives every economy around the world. Their relevancy, category or vertical, or proximity to consumers creates disproportionate organic value to Pinners and also creates disproportionate commercial value. Our goal is to show the people the most relevant ad they possibly can based on what they’re trying to accomplish. We can’t do that if we do not meet the needs of the vast majority of businesses that exist. It is a strategic decision, but it’s not just one that goes into paid ads, it creates disproportionate value for the entire platform and ecosystem.”

Hogle’s conversations started mid last year with Tim Kendall, Pinterest’s former president who left in November last year. What started as an exchange of ideas turned, as these conversations often do, it discussions about a potential job at Pinterest, and finally months later he ended up joining to start helping with the company’s small business efforts. Pinterest is increasingly looking to staff up with a suite of executives that will help it get its business in order ahead of a potential IPO. That includes a new COO, Francoise Brougher, who joined in February from Square.

But if Pinterest is going to eventually go public, and get its employees and investors paid out for their efforts, it needs to show that it can be a business that’s beyond just a curiosity budget for a big brand. Getting small businesses on board, like the ones Hogle looks to capture that are right down the street, are a big part of what the company hopes will eventually show that it has a diversified revenue stream and not beholden to just the big and potentially fickle budgets of larger brands.

“Our ad platform is not very old by industry standards, but the rate of development on our self serve tools and the rate of development on interfaces for our small customers is moving at a place where I’m really pleased,” Hogle said. “The ability to carve out opportunity for advertisers is something that’s moving really quickly. Is it where it needs to be long term, of course not, but we’re gonna continue to invest. One of the reasons I joined was it was very clear to me that small businesses were a priority. We are going to invest in products and we’re also going to invest in educational programs. We’re gonna invest and provide in the necessary resources.”