The Google parent's shares are down about 10% since it posted a Q1 revenue miss on Monday afternoon -- a miss that has sparked many calls for a better explanation of what factors were responsible. Annual revenue growth for ad sales on Google's own sites and apps -- responsible for the lion's share of the company's gross profit dollars -- fell to 16.7% from Q4's 21.5%.
In addition, annual growth for paid ad clicks on Google sites/apps slowed to 39% from a Q4 level of 66%; this was partly offset by the fact that the decline in Google's cost per click (CPC -- average ad price) on its properties narrowed to 19% from a Q4 level of 29%.
On the earnings call, CFO Ruth Porat noted that paid click and CPC growth were affected by the 1-year anniversary of YouTube changes enacted in early 2018 that had the effect of boosting paid clicks and depressing CPCs. However, Porat and CEO Sundar Pichai also indicated that ad product changes remain ongoing, and that Google's priority in making such changes will be in "the long-term best interest of users and advertisers," as opposed to making its quarterly numbers.
One can't blame Google for thinking long-term with such moves. And it's worth noting here that many think the ad changes in question involve efforts to improve the quality of the content that's both recommended to YouTube users and offered to advertisers.
Regardless, in the absence of knowing what ad changes were made, and what top-line figures and growth rates look like for Google's search business and YouTube (easily its largest ad businesses), investors can only guess as to what's going on. And so while there's speculation that YouTube content quality efforts are hurting ad sales, there's also speculation that -- though it's worth noting here that e-commerce is just one of many ad verticals Google participates in -- Google's search ad business is being hurt by Amazon.com's (AMZN - Get Report) ad sales growth. Some also wonder if mobile search ad sales are being hurt by the fact that Google has no more room left to grow the number of ads it shows on a smartphone screen.
And as the old saying goes, markets hate uncertainty.
Though not a cure-all, breaking out search and YouTube revenue would do a lot to reduce that uncertainty. Wall Street might applaud such a move in the same way that it applauded Alphabet's 2016 decision to break out revenue and operating losses for its money-losing Other Bets segment, as well as Amazon's 2015 decision to break out AWS' revenue and operating profits. Meanwhile, arguments for not breaking out search and YouTube revenue that may have been stronger a few years ago (in YouTube's case, at least) don't look as strong today.
Historically, there are two reasons why a company might decline to break out how much revenue it's getting for a particular business: It's worried that competitors could make use of the information, and/or it's worried that the numbers will compare unfavorably to those of rival businesses.
It's for these reasons, for example, that it arguably makes sense for Google not to break out how much revenue it gets from the Google Cloud Platform (GCP), whose sales are believed to still be much lower than those of AWS and to a lesser extent, Microsoft's (MSFT - Get Report) Azure cloud platform. Or for that matter, why there's a logic to Microsoft decision to share Azure's revenue growth rate (still above 70%), but not its actual revenue.
But YouTube, by contrast, is a colossus with a very powerful network effect and no direct peer in the realm of ad-supported online video. It had 1.9 billion monthly logged-in users as of last July, surpassed 1 billion hours of daily viewing by early 2017 and has seen annual revenue estimates in the range of $13 billion to $15 billion. While there may have been a point in YouTube's history when Google could have been understandably worried about how other firms competing for video ad dollars -- whether old media firms or providers of online video ad inventory such as Facebook (FB - Get Report) -- could use a revenue disclosure to their advantage, such concerns don't seem to hold as much water now.
Likewise, with Google Search possessing a market share that's comfortably above 80% in the U.S. and many other large markets, and with its brand, revenue base, R&D budget, search data and integration with other Google services all conferring major competitive advantages, Google doesn't seem to have much to lose by breaking out its search revenue. One could add here that Google was sharing its search ad revenue on a de facto basis in the past, back when nearly all of its revenue came from search.
One final argument for breaking out search and YouTube revenue: While Google has made it clear since its 2004 IPO that it doesn't care about short-term stock price movements, the company does care about keeping employees happy as it continues investing heavily in R&D amid a tight market for top-flight engineering talent. And if the company's stock remains under pressure, retaining talented employees who have been granted equity packages becomes more difficult.
If better transparency regarding Google's largest businesses helps keep such employees loyal by boosting the value of their equity packages, the payoff for such a move is by no means just a short-term one.