Facebook profit more than doubles as mobile marches on

The social-networking company beats expectations and points to fast-growing revenue from mobile advertising.

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Facebook's 1 billion-plus users are checking the social network more often on their mobile devices, helping CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his crew double profits and then some in the company's second quarter, to well above analyst expectations.

The world's largest social network said sales from mobile advertising rose at a rapid rate, representing approximately 62 percent of the company's overall advertising tallies in the second quarter ended June 30. That's up from 41 percent in the same period a year ago. Overall revenue rose nearly 61 percent, to $2.9 billion, compared with $1.8 billion last year.

Nearly 1.1 billion users accessed the site at least once a month using a mobile device, an increase of 31 percent year over year.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on a conference call with analysts that while he's pleased with the company's performance on mobile so far, there's still a lot of room to grow. He said customers in the US spend 40 minutes each day using Facebook on their mobile phones. "This is more than any other app by far," he said, but they spend nine hours interacting with media on phones, computers, and TVs broadly. To him, this is ripe territory.

Analysts agree. Facebook is expected to command more than 22 percent of mobile-advertising dollars worldwide this year, industry researcher eMarketer estimates. That would be up from just 5.4 percent in 2012, when the company went public.

Google, the top dog, is expected to wane slightly, representing a little over half of the market, down from 52.6 percent in 2012. Twitter, one of Facebook's primary social-networking rivals and the third largest recipient of ad dollars, is expected to reach nearly 3 percent this year.

Facebook says it wants to go slow, however. Zuckerberg told analysts, who were hungry for details about how the company will begin to pull in advertising revenue from WhatsApp and Instagram, that it will take time.

He took a similar approach to Facebook's main site seven years ago, when it began introducing free marketing technologies like brand pages and metrics about how users interact with them. Later, Facebook introduced ads, once marketers and users were used to them.

"I really can't underscore this enough that we have a lot of work to do and we could take the cheap and easy approach and put ads in and do payments and make money in the short-term, but we're not going to do that," he said. "We're going to take the time to do this in the way that is going to be right over multiple years."

While analysts wait, Facebook is ringing up a lot of money. The company's profit surged nearly 138 percent to $791 million, or 30 cents per share, up from $333 million, or 13 cents per share.

Adjusting for items such as stock-based compensation, Facebook said its profits jumped to nearly $1.1 billion, or 42 cents per share. Analysts on average had expected the company to report profits of $853.5 million, or 32 cents per share, on revenue of $2.8 billion, according to surveys by Thomson Reuters.

While the company spoke at length about advertising and other items, it didn't discuss the recent controversy over an emotion study conducted in 2012. Why? Analysts didn't ask.

Analysts also didn't ask much about Oculus, the virtual reality company Facebook recently finished acquiring for $2 billion. CNET earlier broke news about rising costs at the company, and surprise among some Facebook executives. The company did discuss spending in broad terms, noting that Oculus and another large acquisition, messaging company WhatsApp, will add to its expenses; Facebook also said that line item will grow "significantly" in 2015.

Zuckerberg said the company is committed to its long-term bets, including virtual reality and augmented reality. "I cared really deeply about...the 10-year arc of the company," he said, adding that he wants to make Facebook a company that can help define the next generation of computing. Facebook, he said, is"going to spend a lot and invest heavily in a bunch of these things to do it right over the long term."

The company said the number of users who access the site at least once a month reached 1.32 billion, a 14 percent increase from last year and roughly in line with many analysts' expectations. Those users who access daily -- a key metric some analysts use to determine the pace of customer activity -- reached 829 million, a 19 percent gain over last year.

Shares rose nearly 4 percent in after-hours trading, after closing up nearly 3 percent, to $71.29 per share. Facebook's stock is up 30 percent so far this year.

About the author

Ian Sherr is a senior writer for CNET focused on social media and video game companies. He has previously written for The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and the Agence France-Presse. He's a native of the San Francisco Bay Area, though he knows what real weather feels like too.

 

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