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Twitter Q4 Revenue Falls Short, Warns Sales Will Continue to Lag User Growth

Twitter’s top line continues to decelerating, as the company reported fourth-quarter 2016 sales that missed Wall Street expectations and said revenue will continue to “lag” relative to audience growth.

For the quarter, Twitter reported revenue of $717 million — up only 0.9%, its smallest year-over-year increase ever — and adjusted net income of $119 million, or 16 cents per diluted share. Analysts had forecast Q4 revenue of $740 million and adjusted EPS of 12 cents.

Twitter didn’t provide revenue guidance for the first quarter of 2017. Rather, it said it expects adjusted earnings (before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization) to be between $75 million and $95 million — well below adjusted EBITDA of $180.5 million for Q1 2016.

Shares of Twitter plunged more than 10% in pre-market trading Thursday on the earnings report and weak outlook.

“While revenue growth continues to lag audience growth, we are applying the same focused approach that drove audience growth to our revenue product portfolio, focusing on our strengths and the real-time nature of our service,” Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said in announcing the earnings. “This will take time, but we’re moving fast to show results.”

Twitter reported a net loss of $167.1 million for the quarter ended Dec. 31, versus a net loss of $90.2 million in the year-earlier period, as the company recorded at $101.2 million restructuring charge for Q4 2016. In October, Twitter said it would cut 9% of its workforce, eliminating about 350 jobs.

Looking for a bright spot, Dorsey pointed to Twitter’s overall user growth, noting that daily active usage was up 11% year-over-year, the third straight quarter the metric has improved. Average monthly active users were 319 million in Q4, up from 317 million the prior quarter (on the low side of Wall Street expectations for net adds). Tweet impressions and time spent on Twitter also each increased by double digits in Q4 on a year-over-year basis, according to the company.

Twitter highlighted its live-video initiative, and said it will continue to invest in the strategy in 2017. In the fourth quarter, the company streamed more than 600 hours of live video from content partners across about 400 events — including 10 NFL Thursday night football games — attracting 31 million unique viewers. Of the programming hours streamed, 52% were sports, 38% were news and politics, and 10% were entertainment.

Twitter claimed the “Thursday Night Football” live-streams surpassed the high end of its audience expectations, as the NFL games pulled in an average of about 3.5 million unique viewers per game. According to COO/CFO Anthony Noto, 50% of the audience for the NFL live streams was less than 25 years old. “The NFL was really interested in reaching a new audience, and they’re interested in reaching a younger audience and a non-U.S. audience and a more diverse gender split,” he said on the earnings call Thursday. Noto, asked whether Twitter will renew the NFL pact, said “we will look to partner with them in a bigger way.”

In other live video events, Twitter’s viewership of the 2016 U.S. presidential debates hit 4.2 million unique viewers during the final debate, and the company garnered 7.5 million and 8.6 million unique viewers for BuzzFeed News’ election-night special and President Trump’s inauguration live streams, respectively. The Jan. 8 live-stream of the Golden Globe Awards red carpet in partnership with Dick Clark Productions drew approximately 2.7 million unique viewers.

Also in Q4, users of Twitter’s Periscope broadcast an aggregate of 6.6 million hours of live video. The company recently expanded the role of Periscope CEO Kayvon Beykpour to oversee operational and product aspects of all video initiatives.

On the sales front, Twitter said that in 2017 it plans on “simplifying and differentiating our revenue products to drive sustainable long-term revenue growth.” As part of the reorg announced last fall, Twitter consolidated its three sales groups into two, and the company didn’t provide a Q4 revenue forecast because it said sales would be unpredictable.

Meanwhile, Twitter has announced steps to curb harassment and abuse on the service — a nagging problem that has likely impaired user growth. This week, the company unveiled new measures to address abusive behavior, including identifying and blocking chronic offenders from creating new Twitter accounts.

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