Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) has had a great 2014 by reporting a year-to-date gain of 45% versus 11.6% for the greater S&P 500 index. Building upon its excellent 2013, the company has firmly put its poor post-IPO performance behind it. For perspective, even if you were "unlucky" enough to buy Facebook at its highest print on the first day of public trading -- $45 -- you'd still be sitting on a gain of 78%.
During that period Facebook has faced numerous concerns from the Wall Street analyst crowd. Chronologically, its reliance on Zynga and gaming for revenue, its lack of a desktop advertising monetization strategy, its lack of a mobile monetization strategy, and Mark Zuckerberg's perceived reckless string of acquisitions. In each case, Facebook has continued its upward trajectory, shaking off concerns by reporting strong financial results.
More recently, the company has faced questions related to its user base, specifically when it comes to teens. According to a new report from research firm Frank N. Magid Associates (hat tip to Bloomberg) provides new fodder to that assertion. The company found the percentage of 13- to 17-year-old social-media users in the U.S. dropped 6 percentage points this year, decreasing from 94% in 2013 to 88% today.
This survey isn't the only one
If anything, this survey actually confirms this trend rather than first reporting it. Last year, then CFO David Ebersman caused a stir when he commented on teen users on a quarter conference call: "Youth usage among U.S. teens was stable overall from Q2 to Q3, but we did see a decrease in daily users partly among younger teens." The stock quickly shaved off a 15% gain that day in the after-hours market with the comment overshadowing an excellent financial report.
Earlier this year, a shocking report from iStrategy Labs found 25% fewer U.S. teens use Facebook now as opposed to 2011. So, you see where this is going, right? Facebook must be struggling to pull in ad dollars as the site becomes uncool. The chart below gives proper context:
So, as you can see, if Facebook is now uncool with the teen set it appears Madison Avenue hasn't gotten the memo, metonymously speaking, of course. Advertisers are still paying Facebook billions per quarter for ads. Looking at that chart, with the exception of the first quarter drop-off (extremely normal considering the highly lucrative holiday season ad-fest), each quarter Facebook has outperformed the one before it.
When looking at the numbers on a year-over-year comparison (eliminating seasonality), the numbers are even better. For perspective, last quarter Facebook pulled in $2.96 billion in ad revenue -- an increase of 64.5% from last year's corresponding quarter.
Even better, I feel this trend will continue
Obviously, the key question for investors is "can this trend continue." Considering advertisers pay top dollar for young and impressionable users, it is easy to come to the conclusion that Facebook may have issues growing ad dollars going forward. However, I don't feel that to be the case. Matter of fact, Facebook stands to be a huge beneficiary of the coming shift in ad dollars.
An earlier study from research firm eMarketer found that although digital media consumption -- including both online and mobile -- commanded nearly half of total media consumption, when it comes to ad spend, digital media only pulls in 28% of the total. As advertising agencies follow user trends by proportioning their ad dollars to match eyeball market share, look for Facebook to continue to be a major beneficiary of this shift.
In addition, many of those teenagers have moved over to Facebook-owned Instagram, and although the monetization isn't as good now, Citigroup just assigned Instagram alone a $35 billion valuation. As a side note, Zuckerberg paid $1 billion for Instagram, at the time considered one of his "reckless" acquisitions.
Has Facebook changed? Sure. And I lament the fact that, at times, it appears to take the form of a bad Thanksgiving political discussion rather than the young, hip social hangout of yesteryear. However, it is still a major part of many people's online experience and persona and that's not going to change anytime soon. Advertisers know that and investors shouldn't worry about this new report.