Google might be uniquely qualified to make the struggling Snap profitable -- if it's willing to take on all the risks involved.
Following its recent tumble into the single digits -- the decline kicked off in early August, following disappointing Q2 results and Q3 guidance -- Snap Inc. (SNAP) sports a market cap of about $11.7 billion, and an enterprise value (market cap plus debt minus cash) of $10.2 billion. That's quite a fall for a company that was valued at around $20 billion in pre-IPO funding rounds, and saw shares change hands at $30 billion-plus valuations on its first day of trading in March 2017.
I and many others have covered the business challenges, from user growth to revenue growth to losses and cash burn, that have led Snapchat parent's shares to crater. The runaway success of Instagram Stories, and to some degree other Facebook (FB) attempts to launch rival/copycat services, have contributed to flattening daily active user DAU growth for Snap. So have a much-criticized redesign that Snap has been backtracking from, and ongoing struggles when it comes to winning over older consumers in its core North American and European markets.
Meanwhile, Snap's lack of scale relative to Facebook and Alphabet/Google (GOOGL) has weighed on its ad sales, as has a relative dearth of user data that can be leveraged for ad targeting. And the company's giant cloud hosting payments to Google and Amazon.com (AMZN) , partly the result of Snap's need to support massive amounts of consumer and publisher video, have led cash burn to remain substantial in spite of Snap's recent cost-cutting efforts.
This is a daunting set of challenges, and they collectively make investing in Snap a risky proposition even at current levels. On the other hand, should Google, which reportedly offered $30 billion or more for Snap back in early 2016 and invested in the company when it was privately owned, decide that Snap's plunge presents a good opportunity to get the company at a discount, it has the resources to partly or fully address many of these challenges.
If Google bought Snap, it could improve the company's margin and cash-flow profile overnight by hosting all of Snap's services on its highly efficient data center infrastructure at cost today, it helps host them while collecting a margin. It could also use its ad resources, from its user data to its targeting and measurement tools to its relationships with legions of YouTube video advertisers, to improve Snapchat monetization.
Moreover, Google could potentially improve user growth by bundling the Snapchat app with Google's version of Android, much as it bundles various Google apps today. In addition, just as it does for YouTube today, Google could boost user growth by promoting Snapchat's services in overseas markets where Snapchat has been reluctant to promote itself due to the fact that consumers in these markets are often tougher to monetize.
There might also be some potential for Google to cross-promote Snapchat Stories to both YouTube users and creators. By and large, YouTube is still a platform for viewing horizontal rather than vertical videos, and thanks largely to the explosive growth of various "Stories" products the vertical video consumption on smartphones has blown up in recent years.
Certainly, Snap's current user growth and bottom-line pressures could still act as deterrents for Google. If Google isn't confident that Snap's user won't wither as Facebook's attacks continue, it might not be interested in buying the company regardless of how much it was willing to pay in early 2016, before Instagram Stories launched.
Still, it's worth noting that Snap's core base of younger U.S. and European consumers -- a demographic coveted by many advertisers -- has remained fairly loyal to the platform even as many of those users have embraced Instagram Stories. While Snap's DAUs fell by three million sequentially in Q2 to 188 million Snap blamed the redesign, they were up by 15 million annually. And CEO Evan Spiegel asserted that time spent per DAU remained above 30 minutes.
For Google, which has long coveted a stronger social media presence (anyone remember Google+?), all of that could make Snap a tempting target. In addition, though its infrastructure and digital advertising resources aren't as formidable as Google's, perhaps Snap's attractive user base and engagement levels are enough to get a media giant such as Disney (DIS) , which cares quite a lot about its reach with younger consumers, to kick the tires some.
It's definitely hard to justify investing in Snap, whose long-term outlook as an independent company remains pretty cloudy, on buyout hopes alone. On the flip side, the potential for Google, or maybe another tech or media giant, to explore a bid for Snap shouldn't be overlooked by those who have shorted the stock and now have large paper profits on their hands.
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