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Facebook Monetizes Engagement Better Than Anyone Else

By Adam Levy – Updated Apr 11, 2019 at 11:51AM

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So, why is it copying formats from competitors like Snap and YouTube?

Facebook, Inc. (META -6.79%) hasn't grown its North American user base very much over the last year, but revenue in the region increased 35%. And it's not like users are spending a lot more time on Facebook and Instagram, either.

Advertisers are simply willing to pay more for Facebook ads this year than they were last year. Not only that, but Facebook has been able to produce significantly higher amounts of ad revenue per hour of time spent on its platforms than competitors like Snap (SNAP -6.73%) or YouTube, the subsidiary of Alphabet (GOOG -2.56%) (GOOGL -2.51%).

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg holding a microphone

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Image source: Facebook.

How much is your Facebook time worth?

Facebook generates $0.60 per hour of time spent on its core platform in the U.S. and another $0.43 per hour on Instagram, according to a recent estimate from eMarketer. The analysts say Facebook is taking a significantly higher share of the digital ad market compared to time spent on its platform.

Check out the latest Facebook earnings call transcript.

By comparison, Snapchat's average revenue per user in North America totaled $10.31. Snap says users spend an average of over 30 minutes per day on the app. Therefore, Snap generated less than $0.06 per hour spent on its platform in North America in 2018.

Alphabet doesn't disclose details on revenue or time spent on YouTube. R.W. Baird analyst Colin Sebastian estimates the video platform generated $15 billion last year for its parent company. YouTube says "every day people watch over a billion hours of video." That translates into an average of about $0.04 per hour on its platform globally.

Facebook's global hourly rate is obfuscated by the fact that its revenue is split across Facebook and Instagram. But its global average revenue per user in 2018 was about 22% of its U.S. ARPU. Based on that ratio, Facebook may generate around $0.13 per hour globally, and Instagram may generate nearly $0.10 per hour -- rates well above YouTube's. 

Below is a table that illustrates the massive gap between Facebook and Instagram and the competition.






U.S. Revenue/hour




Insufficient data

Global Revenue/hour





*Includes all of North America. Table source: Author. Data source: eMarketer, author estimates based on disclosures from Facebook, Snap, and YouTube and YouTube revenue estimate from R.W. Baird.

So, why is Facebook pushing video so hard?

The discrepancy in how well Facebook monetizes its engagement compared to video-dominated platforms like YouTube or Snapchat raises the question of why Facebook is investing so much in video. The company has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in video content for Facebook Watch, and it's aggressively pushing Instagram users to tune into IGTV -- the long-form video platform on Instagram.

Video currently monetizes at a lower rate than feeds since users see fewer ads per minute, but that might not always be the case. As users transition their sharing and engagement from feeds to Stories and videos, marketers may find their ad budgets following suit. That could push average ad prices higher for video content while ad prices for feed-based inventory stabilizes.

In that way, the push toward video is very much a hedge against a shift away from feed-based sharing. Digital video advertising is also growing faster than the overall market, implying the gap between video monetization and feed monetization will close over time, providing a growth opportunity there as well.

Facebook is already experiencing a shift toward more video engagement with the rise of Stories, which it says currently monetize at lower rates than feeds. Management expects Stories to reach similar levels as feeds in terms of revenue per minute over time, though. The move appears to be a smart one for the long run, as Snap has struggled since Facebook added the Stories format to Instagram and its other apps. Adding video content is yet another hedge against the continued growth of time spent on digital video, even if it doesn't monetize as well as feeds.

Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Adam Levy owns shares of Alphabet (C shares) and Facebook. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A and C shares), and Facebook. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Stocks Mentioned

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Alphabet Stock Quote
$97.31 (-2.56%) $-2.56
Snap Stock Quote
$9.42 (-6.73%) $0.68

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