Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ:ATVI) on Tuesday gave investors some good reasons to cheer. The video game developer avoided an early 2021 growth slowdown thanks to a flood of popular content releases in franchises like Call of Duty and World of Warcraft. That momentum seems set to carry on through 2021, too, even as the waning pandemic threat is pressuring demand for at-home entertainment.
Let's take a look at some standout metrics from that first-quarter announcement.
1. Audience size: 435 million
Investors were worried about a potential growth slowdown given Activision's record user gains in 2020. After all, Netflix last month warned that it pulled forward a significant chunk of annual growth as people prioritized digital entertainment during the pandemic.
Activision Blizzard had no such problem. The developer entertained 435 million gamers across its portfolio in the first quarter, marking solid gains over the previous quarter's 400 million. New releases in the Call of Duty franchise, especially on mobile and free-to-play niches, made the difference.
While Netflix had to pause much of its new content production early last year, Activision continued developing new seasons for Call of Duty: Warzone that helped keep users engaged. "That relentless drive across our franchises produced strong first quarter results that were well ahead of expectations," CEO Bobby Kotick said in a press release.
2. Advertising boost in Candy Crush: 70%
Activision achieved record growth in its casual gaming division that's led by the Candy Crush franchise. That game topped the U.S. charts on in-game spending, but the company also boosted its advertising revenue by 70%.
As a result, the King Digital division set a new quarterly record for revenue and posted higher operating margin in the quarter.
3. Operating margin: 43%
You might have thought Activision's profitability would drop as its gamer base shifts more toward free-to-play games. But the opposite is happening. Many players are choosing to upgrade from free titles like Warzone or spending on in-game enhancements in franchises like Candy Crush and Hearthstone.
That success allowed operating income to more than double in the Call of Duty brand as overall operating margin jumped to 43% of sales from 37% a year ago .
4. Cash flow: $844 million
The business generated over $800 million of cash compared to $148 million a year ago. That spike was the result of several positive trends, including sharp sales growth, increasing profitability, and rising demand for subscription style services.
Over the last year, Activision has generated just under $3 billion of operating cash, compared to $2.2 billion a year earlier. The flood of resources supported a 15% boost to the dividend and is allowing stock buyback spending to rise, too.
5. Net bookings target: $8.6 billion
Activision now sees net bookings (a measure of sales growth) landing at $8.6 billion in 2021. That marks a solid upgrade over the $8.45 billion management was forecasting in early February. It also implies significant growth even following last year's surging gains. Bookings were $8.4 billion in 2020. "Our continued overperformance enables us to raise our outlook for the full year," Kotick said.
That might not be the last upgrade that investors see this year, given the flood of new video game content on the way in 2021. And Activision is releasing these titles to its biggest base of users yet. Overall, that situation spells record earnings for the business -- and good returns for investors -- ahead.