As it has done like clockwork for the past eight or so quarters, Facebook on Wednesday reported strong audience and ad revenue growth led by mobile. An aggressive investment in video is adding to its momentum, though exactly what video contributes to its top line is unclear.
Facebook's Q1 2015 revenue from advertising totaled $3.5 billion, an increase of 42% from Q1 2014. Of that sum mobile ads made up 73%, or about $2.6 billion. By comparison, one year ago mobile ads only accounted for 59%.
Meanwhile Facebook's revenue from ads served on personal computers was down 4%, owing to a combination of declining PC use and a redesign that reduced the volume of ads in its right-hand rail. [Read the earnings release.]
Video is a big part of Facebook's mobile story. Users watched more than 4 billion clips a day on average during the quarter, and 75% of those views occurred on mobile devices.
Facebook does not break out what percentage of video ads served in the news feed are video ads or how much it makes from them, but CFO David Ebersman said those formats have to compete in the auction against all other ad types.
"There's not differential pricing by product," he said. "It's just what are you willing to bid for the format you want to show to the people you want to show it to."
As a result, noted COO Sheryl Sandberg, "It's important to realize that it's not all incremental revenue. … Video ads take the place of other ads we would have served in news feed."
While video revenues are a question mark, the company gave some color around how the surge is changing Facebook's advertiser mix. "This is the first time the entertainment and media vertical was one of our top verticals," Sandberg said.
Sandberg suggested to the analysts on the call that Facebook's total addressable market is much larger than they might think.
She referenced (but did not offer citation for) an estimate that 25% of consumer media time is now on mobile, and 25% of that time goes to Facebook. Using that logic, she implied Facebook should command 5% of overall ad budgets.
"Even for the largest clients we have, we are a very small part of their budgets," she said. "We have considerable room to grow."
Facebook paid a little lip service to its growing family of ad products, including its Audience Network mobile ad net, Atlas ad server and LiveRail exchange platform for mobile and video. But it reserved more enthusiasm for its investments in targeting and analytics capabilities – in particular its initiative to tying marketing activities directly to sales.
"Our future growth will depend on executing that very well," Sandberg said of the measurement challenge.