Earnings season is kicking things into high gear, and hundreds of companies are stepping up to deliver fresh financials this week. Roku (NASDAQ:ROKU) is one of the more compelling names on the earnings calendar, and it reports after Wednesday's market close.
Roku was one of last year's biggest winners. The stock more than quadrupled in 2019 as its video-streaming platform took off. The shares have checked in with more modest gains in 2020, but that can naturally change with a blowout financial performance this week. Let's review some of the questions that Roku will likely have to answer.
1. Is Roku asking too much of its newer potential partners?
One of the selling points for Roku has been its agnosticism. If there's a streaming service you want to see, there's a good chance it's available on the streaming pioneer's hub. But Roku hasn't played nice with some of the more recent high-profile offerings. You can't stream Quibi, Peacock, or HBO Max on Roku, and that could be a problem down the line.
It's not Roku's fault that it doesn't stream Quibi, as that platform was designed for mobile devices. Peacock and HBO Max are bigger omissions, and Roku shares some of the blame there. Roku's model relies on services giving up a piece of their ad inventory -- reportedly about 30% -- to Roku. The platform also takes a small bite out of any sign-ups. No party has publicly spelled out the differences, but this is a lose-lose scenario if they don't come to terms.
2. Can ARPU head higher in a pandemic or recession?
One of the more exciting metrics to watch at Roku is average revenue per user (ARPU). Roku is getting better at monetizing its eyeballs, and a surge in engagement is only helping. ARPU has risen 28% over the past year through the end of March, and that's stacked on top of the 37% year-over-year surge in users.
Everything was trending nicely through the end of March, but isn't the advertising market already feeling the pinch? Won't the pandemic freeze marketing budgets? Won't the recession diminish the perceived value of a lead? Roku bulls will argue that ads on Roku for obscure and not-so-obscure streaming services aren't cyclical. Content needs to get noticed, and Roku is the best place to stand out given its growing and engaged audience. Programmatic advertisers keep saying how the connected TV segment that Roku delivers is booming. Investors will still want to keep an eye on ARPU in Wednesday's report to see any signs of cracking on that front.
3. How will Roku fly without a net?
There will be something unusual happening when Roku puts out its earnings results on Wednesday afternoon. It will be the first time that it announces quarterly financials without issuing earlier guidance. Roku suspended its guidance in mid-April, as many companies have done in light of the COVID-19 uncertainty.
This is shaping up to be a volatile earnings season as a result of companies zipping their lips in putting out forecasts. A big miss or a big hit is possible now that Roku itself hasn't laid out the baseline for growth.
Wall Street is setting the stage for a potential beat. The $312.5 million that analysts are targeting on average in revenue is just 25% ahead of where it clocked in last year. This would be Roku's weakest top-line percentage increase in three years, and it would also be a sequential dip from the $320.8 million it served up through the first three months of 2020.
The bar seems set reasonably for Roku. It had mentioned last time out that momentum was accelerating in April and that it expects strong ad revenue growth for the entire year. Now it's time to see if it can deliver a blowout quarter like the market's best growth stocks do.