For years, people have been trying to figure out how much money YouTube actually makes.
Now, they may finally get an answer.
Google, which owns YouTube, is due to report its fourth quarter earnings results on Monday and a number of analysts believe the odds are growing that the company will at last pull the curtain back on YouTube’s financials.
“We anticipate more clarity on the overarching video strategy in 2019,” Robert W. Baird & Co analyst Colin Sebastian wrote in a recent note to clients. Whether Google reveals YouTube’s revenue during Monday’s earnings, or later this year, Sebastian believes Google could be motivated to break out YouTube’s financials to “illuminate a more diversified business” to investors.
“In general, investors still largely view Google as a ‘one trick’ pony in search,” he told Business Insider in an email. “We think it could be a catalyst for the stock if/when they decide to shine a spotlight on this business.”
What’s more, he says increasing scrutiny from investors and regulators could incentivize Google to provide “more granular disclosures” about the YouTube business. He points to Amazon’s breakout of its cloud-computing unit AWS back in 2015, as a potential precedent for other tech companies providing more insight into their financials.
Historically, Google only has provided revenue numbers for its advertising business and “other bets,” which include long-term, ambitious projects like self-driving cars and healthcare technology. This lack of transparency leaves analysts and investors without key data points when trying to asses the size and growth potential for Google’s largest revenue-generating products, like YouTube.
Sebastian estimates that YouTube generated revenues of nearly $20 billion in 2018. Even with all that revenue, he thinks YouTube is only modestly profitable, if it’s profitable at all.
While Sebastian admits he has “no particular insight into whether Alphabet will disclose the YouTube numbers” this quarter, another Wall Street analyst Business Insider spoke to said the disclosure of YouTube’s financial results was one of the key items they’d be looking out for on Monday’s call.
A Google spokesperson declined Business Insider’s request for comment as to whether or not it would break out YouTube’s financials at its earnings call on Monday.
Big, but expensive
YouTube is the world’s No.1 video streaming site, with visitors to the site viewing more than one billion hours of video every day. The sites generates revenue through display ads that appear alongside the videos, as well as video ads that marketers pay to insert before and during clips. YouTube has also recently begun selling subscriptions for premium TV and audio services.
Last year, Morgan Stanley estimated YouTube to be worth $160 billion (or 7x its expected 2019 revenues).
Brian Wieser, a Senior Research Analyst from Pivotal Research Group, told Business Insider he also agrees that the tech giant should breakout the YouTube business from its financials, though he’s less confident that it will actually happen.
“They probably should,” Wieser said. “But I don’t know that they ever will. I don’t know what will force them to.”
Wieser — who in a report published last week estimated that YouTube consumption now equates to 15% of total TV time (or about 203 million hours per day) — also said that even if Google were to report YouTube’s financials, it’s “not a given that the numbers will look good on balance.”
“Yes, it’s big in revenue. But it’s expensive too,” he said. “So much of Google’s overall capital expenditures go towards supporting YouTube.”
Wieser points to markets like India and Indonesia where YouTube is seeing “a ton of usage and a ton of the growth,” but because of the small advertising potential in these countries, it’s receiving “virtually no revenue.”
Wieser told us the only reason he thought Google would breakout its YouTube financials was if it was forced to do so by regulators.
“Transparency is the best way to build trust and then confidence from there,” Wieser said. “But it’s contrary to how most companies that are Silicon Valley-centric tend to operate.”