Feb 4, 2020
Alphabet / Google Q4 2019 Earnings Call Transcript – GOOG, GOOGL
Alphabet, the parent company of Google, held their Q4 2019 earnings call on February 03, 2020. Read the full transcript of the call right here on Rev.com.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by, and welcome to The Alphabet fourth quarter 2019 earnings conference call. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. After the speakers’ presentation, there will be a question and answer session. To ask a question during the session, you will need to press star and then one on your telephone. If you require any further assistance, please press star, then zero. I would now like to hand the conference over to your speaker today, Ellen West, Head of Investor Relations. Please go ahead.
Ellen West: (00:36)
Thank you, Candace. Good afternoon everyone, and welcome to Alphabet’s fourth quarter 2019 earnings conference call. With us today are Sundar Pichai and Ruth Porat. Now, I’ll quickly cover the safe harbor. Some of the statements that we make today regarding our business performance and operations and our expected level of capital expenditures may be considered forward looking and such statements involve a number of risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially. For more information, please refer to the risk factors discussed in our most recent form 10K filed with the SEC.
Ellen West: (01:12)
During this call, we will present both gap and non-gap financial measures. A reconciliation of non-gap to gap measures is included in today’s earnings press release, which is distributed and available to the public through our investor relations website, located at abc. xyz/investor. And now, I’ll turn the call over to Sundar.
Sundar Pichai: (01:35)
Thank you, Ellen, and good afternoon, everyone. It’s a privilege to join the call as the CEO of both Alphabet and Google after four years as CEO of Google. I’d like to start by thanking Larry and Sergey for giving all of us at Google a timeless mission, enduring values, and an opportunity to have an impact on the world. There’s a lot I want to cover today, and I also want to leave plenty of time for any questions you may have for me and Ruth.
Sundar Pichai: (02:02)
As you’ve seen in our press release, we have added new revenue disclosures to give greater insight into our business. Search and other Google properties continue to drive great results, with total revenues in 2019 of $98 billion and strong growth. I’m also really pleased with two of our newer growth areas. YouTube reached $15 billion in ads revenues in 2019, growing at 36% compared with 2018, and it now has over 20 million music and premium paid subscribers and over two million YouTube TV paid subscribers, ending 2019 at a $3 billion annual run rate in YouTube subscriptions and other non-advertising revenues. Google Cloud ended 2019 at a more than $10 billion run rate, up 53% year on year, driven by significant growth in GCP. The growth rate of GCP was meaningfully higher than that of Cloud overall, and GCP’s growth rate accelerated from 2018 to 2019.
Sundar Pichai: (03:07)
Before I talk about the highlights of the quarter, I want to take a step back and give some early thoughts about my approach to managing Alphabet and other bets. We will always take in a longterm view, investing in deep computer science and technology. Important trends like [inaudible 00:03:23] adoption and application of artificial intelligence, ambient computing, and the move to the cloud underline our investments across Google and our other Alphabet companies. Our work in healthcare is a great example of how our investments in these areas allows us to deliver solutions across an entire sector. Google Cloud works with hospitals and healthcare providers to securely manage their patients’ data, data that is much more secure in the cloud than in paper records or on premises. Our AI teams at Google also work with partners to apply AI to help them and their patients, whether it’s developing better health systems or helping with the diagnosis and detection of disease.
Sundar Pichai: (04:08)
Among their broader efforts are other bets, Verily and Calico, are also partnering with industry leaders to use AI and cloud technologies to improve clinical trials, research, and drug development. Our thesis has always been to apply these deep computer science capabilities across Google and our other bets to grow and develop into new areas. The Alphabet structure allows us to have a portfolio of different businesses with different time horizons without trying to stretch a single management team across different areas. We’ll continue to take a longterm view, managing the portfolio with the discipline and rigor needed to deliver longterm returns.
Sundar Pichai: (04:49)
Many of our other bets are getting to the stage where it now makes sense for them to partner closely with other players and investors in the industry. Waymo’s technological leadership is widely reported. Its cars have driven 20 million miles across more than 25 U.S. cities. Waymo is now serving over 1500 monthly active riders in Metro Phoenix and continues scaling fully driverless by matching early riders with driverless vehicles and charging for these rights. As Waymo looks to its evolution as a business, it’s focusing on strategic partnerships. For example, it’s working closely with OEMs and other businesses to build out ride hailing and delivery business lines. And Verily is an example of a company in the portfolio that has outside investors, Silver Lake and Temasek, as well as its own board. We’ll consider opportunities for some of our other bets to take similar steps over time.
Sundar Pichai: (05:49)
Now, onto highlights from the quarter. First, Search and related Google properties. As I mentioned on our last call, our neural network based technique for natural language processing, called BERT, is the biggest advancement in search in the last five years. It now impacts 10% of searches, and in Q4 we rolled it out in over 70 languages. In Maps, we are celebrating our 15th anniversary very soon, and in the past year we brought reliable directions to 630 million additional people in locations that previously weren’t well mapped. We added as many buildings to Maps using ML in 2019 as we have added using all techniques in the previous decade. With all these improvements, user growth is strong and the range of things people are doing with Google Maps continues to expand, as well.
Sundar Pichai: (06:41)
The Google Assistant now helps more than 500 million monthly users across 90 countries get things done, across smart speakers and smart displays, phones, TVs, cars, and more. Shopping and commerce is another exciting area. We are making strong leadership hires in this area to help build a thriving business for partners of all sizes. Over the Black Friday and Cyber Monday holiday weekend, we had the largest number of daily shoppers on google.com ever in our history. Throughout the entire holiday shopping season, we also expanded the selection of products on Google due to a 4X uptick in the number of U.S. merchants participating in our shopping actions program.
Sundar Pichai: (07:26)
Second, YouTube. Speaking of shopping, people can now easily buy products in YouTube’s home feed and in search results, making it possible for advertisers to reach even more audiences. Try searching for Puma shoes review on YouTube to see an example. With all the related content on YouTube, like unboxing and beauty videos, this is a format people love and it delivers a simple in-video buying experience. A huge focus is continuing our work to keep YouTube safe for users, creators, and advertisers. You may have seen a blog post today about our work to promote authoritative content and remove misleading information about the upcoming 2020 elections. For example, we are applying our deceptive content policies to reduce misleading information about voting locations or the census process. As I mentioned earlier, we are pleased with YouTube’s growth in advertising and subscriptions, and we are also pleased with the early results from other revenue options we offer creators, including memberships, brand integrations, merchandise, and ticket sales.
Sundar Pichai: (08:37)
Continuing on now to Cloud, we are really pleased with the momentum we are seeing in Cloud. Year on year, the number of deals over $50 million more than doubled. The investments in Cloud’s go-to-market expansion are resulting in customer momentum. Wayfair is one of the many retailers who successfully ran holiday operations on Google Cloud. In addition, Lowes, which began transitioning off its legacy eCommerce system in late 2018 to Google Cloud, worked with us during this year’s peak holiday buying season to improve the stability of their eCommerce site. Worth noting, at peak time customers in our Black Friday slash Cyber Monday program used 4X to compute resources, compared to previous year, and our platform experienced 100% up time.
Sundar Pichai: (09:27)
Lufthansa group is using our AI solutions to develop new tools that will improve air travel operations. The U.S. postal service also chose Google Cloud AI to improve business processes and customer experience. We have recently signed a 10 year agreement with Sabre to help them improve operations and develop new airline and hospitality services.
Sundar Pichai: (09:53)
Finally, Google other revenue. Android continues to thrive. I’m proud to announce that over $80 billion has been earned by developers around the world from Google Play, showing the popularity of our platform. There are now over two billion active monthly users of Google Play. Hardware is still in the early stages of delivering on our vision for ambient computing. Our home devices demonstrate how this mission can come to life in creating the home of the future, with our new Nest Mini and Nest Hub Max selling well over the holidays, following on from the Pixel 3a, which sold well last year. With Pixel 4 we continue to build out our capabilities and are keenly focused on execution, delivering great user experiences, and broadening our distribution. And our pending acquisition of Fitbit will give us a foundation in variables. I’m excited about our roadmap ahead across our products.
Sundar Pichai: (10:53)
Overall, in 2020, our teams at Google are focusing on four key things. First, creating the most helpful products for everyone. We are really focused on ensuring that our products like Search, Maps, and Assistant are helping people in their daily lives. Second, providing the most trusted experiences for our users. We are doing lots of work to keep improving users’ privacy and security while also keeping harmful content off our systems. Third, executing at scale. This would show up as more seamless products across various surfaces and platforms like the Google Assistant, deeper partnerships, and better use of our shared infrastructure. For example, Activision Blizzard recently chose Google as a strategic partner, using Google Cloud’s computing infrastructure, YouTube for livestreaming, and our AI tools. Putting together these multi-product partnerships helps us unlock great opportunities for our partners. And fourth, creating sustainable value. This means optimizing our usage of computing resources and also growing business opportunities in areas like YouTube, Cloud, Play, Hardware, and beyond.
Sundar Pichai: (12:12)
So as you can see, there’s a lot happening at the company and a real sense of excitement and focus. I want to thank our employees for all the great work in 2019. With that, I’ll turn it over to Ruth, and I look forward to your questions.
Ruth Porat: (12:26)
Thanks, Sundar. We’re very pleased with our strong 2019 results, with total Alphabet revenues of $162 billion, up 18% year on year, or 20% in constant currency. In dollar terms, this represents an increase of $25 billion in revenues relative to 2018. I will review our quarterly and annual results, including our new revenue disclosures, and conclude with our outlook. Sundar and I will then take your questions.
Ruth Porat: (12:58)
Starting with consolidated Alphabet results, in the fourth quarter, our total revenues were 46.1 billion, up 17% year on year, and up 19% in constant currency. Our results were driven by ongoing strength in Search, YouTube, and Google Cloud, offset by a decline in Hardware revenues. Details of Alphabet’s consolidated revenues by geographic region are available in our earnings press release. Regarding our key expense lines, on a consolidated basis total cost of revenues, including TAC, was 21 billion, up 17% year on year. Other costs of revenues on a consolidated basis was 12.5 billion, up 19% year over year, primarily driven by Google related expenses. The biggest factors here again this quarter were costs associated with our data centers and other operations, including depreciation. And then content acquisition costs, primarily for YouTube and mostly for our advertising supported content in what has been a seasonally strong quarter for YouTube, but also for our newer paid YouTube music and premium subscription services, as well as YouTube TV, which have a higher content acquisition cost as a percentage of their revenues.
Ruth Porat: (14:22)
These were partially offset by a decline in costs associated with lower Hardware sales. Operating expenses were 15. 8 billion, with headcount growth being the largest driver of year on year growth for R&D and sales and marketing expenses. Headcount drives both compensation and related facilities expenses. After headcount growth, the biggest driver in R&D expenses was an increase in valuation based compensation charges in certain other bets. Stock based compensation totaled 2.6 billion. Headcount was up 4,803 from the third quarter and up 20% over 2018. Again, the majority of new hires were engineers and product managers.
Ruth Porat: (15:12)
In terms of product areas, the most sizable headcount increases were again in Google Cloud, for both technical and sales roles, including the impact of the Looker acquisition, which closed in December. Operating income was 9.3 billion, up 13% year over year, for an operating margin of 20%. Other income and expense was 1.4 billion, which primarily reflects an increase in the market value of certain publicly traded equities, as well as a non-cash gain from a Verily transaction. We provide more detail on the line items within [inaudible 00:15:51] in our earnings press release.
Ruth Porat: (15:53)
Our effective tax rate was 0.3% for the fourth quarter and was 13% for the full year. The fourth quarter ETR reflects the impact of discrete items, including the resolution of multi-year audits. As you have seen in prior years, ETR can vary on a quarterly basis. Net income was 10.7 billion, and earnings per diluted share were $15.35.
Ruth Porat: (16:22)
Turning now to CapEx and operating cash flow. Cash CapEx for the quarter was six billion, which I will discuss in the Google segment results. Operating cashflow was 14.4 billion, with free cash flow of 8.4 billion. We ended the quarter with cash and marketable securities of approximately 120 billion. Let me now turn to our segment financial results, starting with the Google segment. Revenues were 45.8 billion, up 17% year over year, and this of course is on a gap or floating [inaudible 00:16:57] basis. Google Search and other advertising revenues were 27.2 billion in the quarter, up 17% year over year, reflecting ongoing momentum in mobile and desktop. YouTube advertising revenues were 4.7 billion, up 31% year on year, driven by substantial growth in direct response and ongoing healthy growth in brand advertising, which remains the largest component.
Ruth Porat: (17:27)
Network advertising revenues were six billion, up 8% year on year, led by growth in Google Ad Manager. Turning to Google Cloud, including GCP and G Suite, revenues were 2.6 billion for the fourth quarter, up 53% year over year, driven by significant growth at GCP and ongoing strong growth at G Suite. The growth rate of GCP was meaningfully higher than that of Cloud overall. GCP growth was led by our infrastructure offerings and our data and analytics platform. We also saw strong uptake of our multi-cloud Anthos offering. Ongoing growth in G Suite continued to reflect growth in both SMB and Enterprise segments and both seat count and average revenue per seat.
Ruth Porat: (18:20)
The other revenues line now consists of Google Play, followed by Hardware and YouTube’s non-advertising services, mainly its subscription offerings, YouTube premium, YouTube music, and YouTube TV. In the fourth quarter, other revenues were 5.3 billion, up 10% year over year, primarily driven by growth in YouTube and Play, offset by declines in Hardware. YouTube’s contribution to other revenues benefited from subscriber growth across its various offerings. Within Play, app revenues had strong growth driven by an increase in the number of active buyers. Total traffic acquisition costs were 8.5 billion, or 22% of total advertising revenues, and up 14% year over year. Total TAC as a percentage of total advertising revenues was down year over year, reflecting once again a favorable revenue mix shift from network to Google properties.
Ruth Porat: (19:23)
Google operating income was 11.5 billion, up 20% versus last year, and the operating margin was 25%. Google accrued CapEx for the quarter was 6.6 billion, reflecting investments in data centers, followed by servers and office facilities. Moving on to the performance of other bets, for the full year 2019, revenues were 659 million, up 11% versus 2018, primarily generated by Fiber and Verily. Operating loss for other bets was 4.8 billion for the full year 2019, versus an operating loss…
Ruth Porat: (20:03)
Billion for the full year of 2019 versus an operating loss of 3.4 billion in 2018. Let me conclude with a few observations on the quarter and our longer term outlook. Based on the strength of the US dollar to date, relative to the first quarter of last year, we expect continued FX headwinds again in the first quarter of 2020. With our expanded revenue disclosures this quarter, I’ll talk about the revenue and investment outlook for each of these newly disclosed component parts. First, with respect to search and other advertising, although we don’t report search revenues on a fixed FX basis, the delta between fixed and floating growth rates at the Alphabet level is a good proxy for the effect on search revenues, or a headwind of approximately two percentage points in 2019. At our scale, we are pleased with our rate of growth for 2019 and see ample opportunity going forward.
Ruth Porat: (21:05)
What’s exciting for us as we look ahead at search and other Google properties is the ongoing opportunity to support users and advertisers with new ads experiences and improved measurement. Second, with respect to YouTube advertising, at a year on year growth rate of more than 30% in the fourth quarter, we’re pleased with the ongoing strength and opportunity at YouTube. We see substantial continuing opportunity in direct response as well as with brand advertisers. As Sundar shared earlier, the non-advertising services at YouTube, mainly from subscriptions, reached a $3 billion revenue run rate in the fourth quarter. We continue to invest across YouTube to grow over the long term. In the ad supported portion of YouTube, we pay out a majority of revenues to our creators, reflected in our content acquisition costs. On top of that, there are other expenses including infrastructure and networking costs as well as the costs of our content responsibility efforts to keep YouTube safe for users, creators and advertisers.
Ruth Porat: (22:16)
We’re also investing meaningfully to grow our subscriptions, which have higher content acquisition cost ratios. Turning next to Google cloud, we are very confident that there is an enormous opportunity here that plays to our core strengths. We’re pleased with the growth trajectory of GCP, which we see in customer momentum, the growing size of the average contract and of course revenues. The traction we’re having with large customers who are making multi-year commitments with us is reflected in our backlog, which ended the year at 11.4 billion, substantially all of which relates to Google cloud. Given our position as a challenger, we’re investing aggressively, focused on building out our go to market capabilities, executing against our product roadmap and extending the global footprint of our infrastructure focused on 21 markets and six industries. In terms of hardware, as Sundar noted in his opening remarks, we remain focused on the longterm opportunity with ambient computing.
Ruth Porat: (23:24)
We believe our strengths in AI and software give us an advantage in providing seamless experiences to users wherever they are, across multiple surfaces. We have been investing heavily in developing our capabilities in hardware engineering as well as building out supply and physical distribution chains, and we’ve created a multibillion dollar revenue business in the past three years. We’re looking forward to our acquisition of Fitbit, which will add strong capabilities and wearables and advance our vision of ambient computing for the Android ecosystem. As we look at the near term product roadmap, we continue to execute at a measured pace. In other bets, we are sharpening our focus on the metrics and milestones against which capital allocation is determined, and we continue to assess where external capital is additive to governance and execution. I’ll now turn to the investments we’re making in headcount and in capex support the growth opportunities we see across Alphabet.
Ruth Porat: (24:25)
With respect to head count, in 2019 Alphabet headcount grew by 20%, reflecting investment in key areas such as cloud. Overall we expect the growth rate of head count to be slightly higher in 2020 due to the combined impact of investment in priority areas plus the decision to move certain vendor functions in house, as well as from the plant impact of the Fitbit acquisition. On SBC, as a reminder, our full year equity refresh grants are made to employees during the first quarter of 2020, and you will see the step up in our first quarter results. In terms of capex in 2020, we intend to increase our investment in both technical infrastructure and office facilities versus 2019. Within technical infrastructure, the investments in particular support ongoing demand for machine learning across our business as well as for cloud, search, ads and YouTube. Relative to 2019, we anticipate relatively more spend on servers than on data center construction.
Ruth Porat: (25:35)
At this scale of investment, we remain very focused on driving efficiency through fleet optimization and tight management of our supply chain. Finally, on capital returns, in the fourth quarter, we repurchased $6.1 billion of shares, which was more than double the amount of repurchase in the fourth quarter of 2018. As of year end, we had $21 billion remaining in the program and are focused on executing on the remaining authorization at a pace that is at least consistent with what you saw in the fourth quarter. In conclusion, we remain very confident about the opportunities across Alphabet and in our ability to continue to deliver at the steady pace we’ve shown. Sundar and I will now take your questions.
Thank you. As a reminder, to ask a question you will need to press star then one on your telephone. To withdraw your question, please press the pound key. To prevent any background noise, we ask that you please mute your line once your question has been stated. And our first question comes from Heather Bellini from Goldman Sachs. Your line is now open.
Heath Bellini: (26:46)
Hi, thank you very much Sundar and Ruth, and I guess I’m sure you’re going to hear this a million times tonight, but thank you so much for the enhanced disclosure. I think this is the best Google call or Alphabet call I’ve been on since I’ve covered the company, so thank you again. You’ve given us a lot of stuff here. I just wanted to focus a little bit on GCP and the comments that you made. And either if you want to think about this for Google club collectively or just for GCP, just given the revenue run rate that you’re at, how do we think about the growth margin profile of this business? Is it fair to look at some of the other cloud players when they were disclosing similar run rates to get a sense of what their growth margins were? Or is there a reason why your business might look slightly different? Thank you so much again.
Ruth Porat: (27:42)
Thank you for those comments. So first and foremost, we’re obviously really pleased with the momentum year. GCP had fantastic revenue momentum in the fourth quarter. And as we noted, is growing at a meaningfully higher pace than Google cloud overall. In terms of your margin question, look, I think our view is obviously the competitive dynamics in the cloud market are very different today. We are investing aggressively given the opportunity, which I tried to make clear in opening comments. Given the opportunity we see and the momentum we’re having, we’ve accelerated our investment in our go to market team. And as we’ve talked about before, we’ve set a goal to triple the size of the sales force. We’re also focused on building out our product roadmap and extending the global footprint of our infrastructure. And I’ll leave the forecasting to you.
Thank you. And our next question comes from Eric Sheridan from UBS. Your line is now open.
Eric Sheriddan: (28:44)
Thanks so much. Maybe two parts if I can. Sundar for you first, a lot of innovation that the company put on display over the past year, Ruth talked in her sort of forward commentary section about sustainability of growth and outperformance going forward. What are you most excited about when you see the company trying to align what improves consumer utility along with what continues to drive growth in the various segments of the business? That would be number one, and two, Ruth, maybe for you. You had talked about variability of revenue last quarter going into Q4. But unless I missed that, I don’t think you used the same word again in Q4. What were you expecting in terms of variability in Q4 and any color you could give on how that played out or how we should be thinking about variability of revenue going forward? Thanks so much.
Sundar Pichai: (29:33)
Eric, I think overall, I presume you’re meaning across everything we do. And if that’s the case, I mean the trends we are seeing and we’re been investing on it for a while, but applying it and actually driving use cases to users. So for example, using AI to dramatically improve natural language processing to make 10% of our searches so it’s better is a kind of opportunity I’m excited by. When I look at, we do see a lot of commercial experiences across our properties, be it search or YouTube, and the opportunity to create a better experience there and hence bring more value to our users, that’s something which we see as a big opportunity. And across our businesses, be it YouTube cloud, player hardware in addition to search, we are seeing strength in a lot of these areas, and we shared a common technological approach across all of them. And so that gives us a synergistic way to approach these areas as well.
Ruth Porat: (30:39)
And then on your second question, at our scale we’re pleased with the rate of growth in 2019 here in search and our ads business overall. And we do see ample opportunity ahead. When we talk about variability of revenue, the way we’ve talked about it in the past very much holds true, which is where we don’t manage for any particular quarter. We manage focused on what’s in the best for users, and with a lot of testing that goes around it. And so really the point is there will be variability, and we’re focused on the continued longterm opportunity. And we do see that opportunity, the ad’s opportunity, to be significant. Apart from the secular shift to digital, we continue to be very focused on the benefit from better measurement, better ad delivery, better user experience. Our view is that all helps grow the addressable market, but there will be variability over time because we’re very focused on what’s in the right longterm interest.
Eric Sheriddan: (31:44)
Thank you. And our next question comes from Doug Anmith from JP Morgan. Your line is now open.
Doug Anmith: (31:53)
Great. Thanks for taking the questions. One for Sundar and one for Ruth. Sundar, first just hoping you could talk more about Google cloud. Great to see the $10 billion run rate. I’m just curious if you can help gauge the progress over the past year, and then where do you think the biggest areas of differentiation lie in an increasingly competitive space? And then Ruth, can you just give some of your latest thoughts on balancing growth and profitability across the Google segment and other bets? And as you enter this year, do you see additional opportunities to drive increased profitability without impacting the longterm potential of the businesses? Thanks.
Sundar Pichai: (32:32)
Doug, on cloud, I think maybe a few thoughts on some of the progress we made last year and talk about the differentiation which you asked about as well. Definitely under Thomas’s leadership, I think we have clearly focused on six industry verticals across 21 markets, and so doubling down on those efforts. Bringing in a lot of new products and compliance certifications, so effectively expanding the term which we serve. Ruth mentioned the team is on track to triple our sales force in three years, including bringing in a number of senior strategic hires and supplementing it with a channel partnership program. I think the progress I’ve seen in our customer focus with our customer success organization and the contracting framework have all been great progress for us. Overall, every time we are especially in one of these larger deals, they are effectively looking for a technology partner.
Sundar Pichai: (33:39)
So differentiation is not just what we bring to the table in terms of cloud, where we have differentiated capabilities, but in many cases it’s what we bring as Google. So if you take an area like health care, all the investments we are making in healthcare across Google and in some cases Alphabet. If you look at Sabre, the partnership we can bring to them across our experience working in travel verticals as well. And overtime, I also think the AI based industry specific solutions we are working on will end up being a differentiating factor as well.
Ruth Porat: (34:18)
And in terms of your second question, investing for growth and how we balance growth and profitability, the approach to capital allocation and the pace of investing continues to be guided by the same three drivers that we’ve talked about previously. The first and most important is investing to support the longterm earnings growth and the opportunities that we see there. Second, we do remain focused on optimizing investments within each product area. And then third, as we’ve talked about on prior calls, is investing to support operational excellence. And that includes things like driving efficiencies in our technical infrastructure, which I spoke about. When we look at the biggest investment areas within Google, we, as we’ve talked about already on this call, continue to be focused on investing to support the growth that we see. It starts with search while also investing to build new businesses.
Ruth Porat: (35:17)
And we’ve talked about a couple of them already today. Cloud is clearly an area where we’re investing aggressively. In hardware, we’ve been investing heavily by developing our capabilities in hardware engineering as well as building out supply and physical distribution chains. And then in YouTube, as I mentioned in the opening comments, we do continue to build out our subscription services. It’s still in the early days there and we’re making a sizable investment to build it out, taking a longterm view here. So we are leaning into investing for longterm growth. That’s been a core principle here and remains such while looking at where can we optimize within portfolios and where can operational efficiencies be additive.
Doug Anmith: (36:07)
Great. Thank you both.
Thank you. And our next question comes from Brian Noack from Morgan Stanley. Your line is now open.
Brian Noack: (36:17)
Thanks for taking my question. I have two. Sundar, I thought your 2020 focal points were really helpful, creating the most helpful products for everyone and then the most trusted experience for users. Was curious to kind of focus in those comments on payments and YouTube. You’ve had a lot of payment strategies over the last couple of years. So talk about what types of investments or products you think you need to really remove friction and drive better payment adoption. And then on the YouTube side, if you sort of look at how people are using YouTube now from an engagement perspective, what types of changes do you foresee you need to make in order to really make it a more helpful product and drive engagement even higher on the YouTube platform? Thanks.
Sundar Pichai: (36:57)
Brian, thanks. On the payment side, clearly I spoke earlier about the kind of experiences people see across our properties, including people do come with an intent to discover, learn, and commercially engage as well. And when they’re looking to transact, payments ends up playing a critical role. So the less friction you have, it tends to work better. So we’ve been really focused on doing that and getting more of our users set up in the right state. We’ve had a lot of traction with our payments product over the past 18 months. We had a tremendously successful launch in India from which we learned a lot of features, and we are bringing that and we are revamping our payments products globally. And so I’m excited by that rollout, which is coming up in 2020. I think that’ll make the experience better.
Sundar Pichai: (37:53)
On the YouTube side, I guess your question is about how are users engaging with the product. Overall, all our user metrics are very strong. They are global in nature and increasingly we’re seeing newer verticals beginning to grow as well. So YouTube is working horizontally well at scale. And for us, it’s making sure as an ecosystem it works better so that the content there, the experiences there are improving. We take our content responsibility work seriously, which makes more content creators engage and makes it a more valuable product for advertisers as well. But also supplementing the content you see there with other types of accessorizing things, be it merchandising, ticket sales. When we make it contextually relevant, what we’ve done in search and search ads over time, if we can bring that to YouTube and we see an opportunity, I think that sets us up well for the longterm there.
Brian Noack: (39:01)
Thank you. And our next question comes from Brent Dill from Jefferies. Your line is now open.
Brent Dill: (39:11)
Thanks. Ruth, in North America, was there anything that was abnormally unusual? Facebook had sited some weakness in North America. It looks like your North America number was relatively weak versus the last four years. Was there any anomaly that we should be aware of? Thank you.
Ruth Porat: (39:31)
Thanks for that. So the regional breakdown also reflects product mix within regions. The US year on year growth rate does reflect a decline in hardware revenues relative to what was a fairly strong hardware revenue growth rate in for Q18, and not much more to call out than that.
Thank you. And our next question comes from Steven Jiu from Credit Suisse. Your line is now open.
Steven Jiu: (40:03)
Your line is now open.
Speaker 1: (40:03)
Thank you. So Sundar, I guess some of the more cross product line synergies are showing up in an integrated software and hardware effort with stuff like the Pixel. But you’ve come up through the ranks at Google, so you’re undoubtedly pretty sensitive to the various interests across various teams. But we’re wondering what you may be looking to do to break down I guess what might’ve been more of a siloed effort in Google’s history. Thanks.
Sundar Pichai: (40:32)
I spoke about execution at scale, and so for us that means you have these product areas which are focused on their users, but we are setting up teams which cut across all these areas and make sure they can bring the synergies and work at scale. So last year, we set up a core infrastructure team, which looks at things like how does the user journey work across, what the shared infrastructure engineers can use so that we don’t reinvent the wheel in multiple areas, how can we commonly deploy AI across all these products. So I think that’s been a good example of bringing teams together. Another big area where we invested like that to break down silos is our partnerships. We set up a global partnerships team.
Sundar Pichai: (41:23)
And our ability to bring a common Google perspective to our big global partners, it’s helped us strike many new partnerships. I mentioned Activision Blizzard as an example. And they work, and they are very synergistic with cloud as well to my point earlier. When people engage with us on cloud, they are interested in a bigger digital transformation across the boat. Google assistant is a great example of because we are focused on the user and the experience cuts across several of our product areas as being a great mechanism by which we can break down silos as well. But it’s a great question and I spent a lot of time on it.
Speaker 1: (42:05)
Thank you. And our next question comes from Dan Salmon from BMO Capital Markets. Your line is now open.
Dan Salmon: (42:14)
Hi, good afternoon everyone. I had two questions, one clarifying one for Ruth and then maybe a big picture one for Sundar. Ruth, you distinguish between the growth of brand advertising and direct response on YouTube. Those comments were very clear. I just want to follow up and ask you just how you make that distinction between brand and direct response. Is it a different pricing model? Is it the presence of an ad revenue share with a creator or both? I would just be curious on that distinction.
Dan Salmon: (42:41)
And then to Sundar, the big picture one. We have heard others in the ecosystem talk about headwinds from targeting growing. Certainly there are regulatory changes that also apply to you. You’ve made some changes to various Google advertising platforms, and of course you’re an owner of two of the largest most important platforms in Chrome and the Android operating system. I could ask you a billion things on that last one. But what I’d really like to ask is the big picture question if we roll up these sort of things for your total advertising business, how important are changes here to see your top line growth? Are you seeing notable headwinds from these types of changes in the ecosystem as well? Thanks.
Ruth Porat: (43:24)
So on the first one, we have again this quarter talked about brand and direct response. And as we’ve talked about in prior quarters, brand is growing at a healthy pace and remains the largest component of YouTube ads. Direct response continues to grow at a very substantial growth. The distinction here is the format for… In direct response, we’re letting brands insert a tailored call to action in the video ads such as signing up for a newsletter or scheduling an appointment or downloading an app or booking a trip, things of those sorts. That’s why it’s the direct response category.
Sundar Pichai: (44:03)
And on the broader questions about headwinds, it’s something we always need to take a look at. We try to stay focused on users and our partners and we realize for these things to scale, you need to make sure the ecosystem is working well. And so we are engaged in these issues and we anticipate and structurally work on them early on. So it’s how we broadly approach these things. And so there’s nothing notable to call out other than there will be continued changes in these ecosystems and our ability to anticipate and adapt is key to the years ahead.
Thank you. And our next question comes from Justin Post from Bank of America, Merrill Lynch. Your line is now open.
Justin Post: (45:02)
Great, thank you. I’d like to ask a couple of bigger pictures things on the new disclosure. So first on YouTube monetization, assuming you have about 2 billion users, it’s about seven or $8 per user. Just wondering how you feel about that monetization level given all the usage you’re seeing there, and is there significant room to raise that when you compare it to other social networks? And then secondly on the cloud backlog, very strong number 11.4 versus our IAS past revenue rates. Just wondering about how strong the new deals have been that you’ve signed the last six months? Sounds like really good traction there. And then the profitability of these deals, how you feel about that. Thank you.
Sundar Pichai: (45:43)
On the question around YouTube, I do think there is a lot of opportunity ahead. You’re right, it’s a platform working at scale. I think Ruth spoke a little bit about brand and direct response. I think direct response is a huge growth area for us. And increasingly, I think when you look at the fact that people are consuming a lot of goods and services as part of their experience in YouTube, how can we create better commerce experiences also is a big opportunity for us. So looking across, I think there is significantly more room over the mid to longterm on monetization levels. And so I think we see that as a big opportunity in our investing for it.
Sundar Pichai: (46:36)
On cloud, definitely we are increasingly doing much larger deals. And these deals can sometimes span beyond cloud as well, and they can touch many areas. So as an example, if you’re an automotive company, we can be talking to you across cloud, Android auto, in some cases Waymo, and they all happen to be strong partners on the advertising side as well. So these are large deals and we do want to build these in a sustainable way so that we can serve the partner well. And so profitability has been something we are very focused on as well.
Ruth Porat: (47:18)
And just to add a little more to that, the 11.4 billion backlog number, for us we view it as a way to quantify the traction that we’re having. And as you know well in the enterprise space, these tend to grow over time and profitability as such comes across the cohorts. However, the point that we were trying to make and have made a couple of times here on the call is we are investing aggressively in cloud overall given the opportunity that we see in the momentum we’re having. And we’ll continue to do so.
Justin Post: (47:54)
Thank you. And our next question comes from Youssef Squally from SunTrust. Your line is now open.
Youssef S.: (48:03)
Okay, great. Thank you. Two quick ones. First Ruth, has the shortened holiday season had much of an impact on your search business in North America? And then Sundar, as you talk about automation, machine learning, AI, how much of advertisers search spend is now on auto-bidding and how do you think smart bidding is affecting spending growth and pricing? Thank you.
Ruth Porat: (48:28)
So on the holiday shopping season, there’s really nothing to highlight there. What we find is there are seasonal puts and takes in any given period. So really nothing to note
Sundar Pichai: (48:44)
Yeah, I don’t have specific numbers to add here, but effectively we do see significant traction in these areas, and advertisers are leveraging the features we are bringing here, be it smart bidding, auto bidding. There’s tremendous traction with our advertisers here.
Youssef S.: (49:10)
Thank you. And our next question comes from Kevin Rippy from Evercore. Your line is now open.
Kevin Rippy: (49:18)
Hi, thanks for taking the question. This is primarily for Sundar. As you think about the risk profile of some of your businesses like Waymo, like Verily in healthcare, how do you manage those risks, which you know likely in a scenario where autonomous cars have some accident or something like that, having those in house and the perhaps brand damage that could do to Google versus what you could do if those were entirely separate enterprises? I know they’re all held under the Alphabet umbrella, but just sort of big picture how do you think about managing that risk over time? Thank you.
Sundar Pichai: (49:52)
Thanks Kevin. As I spoke earlier, part of the reason we are making sure we are investing in the proper governance structures so that we don’t try to scale as a management across these important areas. Some of these have regulatory aspects to it. We are for some of these bets as well, and Verily’s a great example, we’ve brought in outside investors, people with the expertise and setting up proper board structures and governance for these. So I think those all help. And we’ll continue to evaluate these on a periodic basis and bring that rigor and discipline. But I do think Alphabet gives us a more flexible framework, if you will, to both have the independence when we need, but where we can have common shared synergies like our AI investments bring that to bear as well.
Kevin Rippy: (50:56)
Thank you. And our next question comes from Mark Mahaney from RBC. Your line is now open.
Hi, this is Ben on for Mark. Thanks for taking the question. Ruth, I just kind of want to double click on something you said before in terms of other bets, kind of a sharpening focus on the allocation there. Is that kind of signaling more of the same or is that kind of potentially maybe prioritizing investments more towards share buybacks and stuff like that as opposed to… Basically, I’m trying to ask should we expect greater rationalization in the other bet segment going forward? Or is it more of the same? Thanks a lot.
Ruth Porat: (51:42)
So what I was saying is that when we look at the other bets and execution, we’ve talked over time about measuring them against specific metrics and milestones, operating business, technology, financial performance, and we look at that as we calibrate the pace of investment, the approach to investments, and we are continuing to do that. We’re putting a sharper focus on, as Sundar indicated, looking at where does it make sense to work with external capitals. We did with Verily as an example. But the bigger point is we continue to invest for the longterm, and when we look at our capital return approach, it’s very consistent with what we’ve talked about previously. The primary use of capital continues to be to support longterm growth in Google and in other bets, and then it’s about strategic investments and on top of that return of capital to shareholders.
Thank you. And our next question comes from Ross Sandler from Barclays. Your line is now open.
Ross Sandler: (52:56)
Hi. Yeah, two questions. The Google segment margin looked really strong in the fourth quarter. I think this is the first time that mix shift actually helped you guys from a margin perspective. So Ruth, can you just talk about how much of that margin increase year on year was from the hardware business dropping off versus improving elsewhere? And then as you look forward, you mentioned that head count is going to accelerate in 2020. So is this an investment year in your view or just kind of more of the steady kind of increase? And then the second question on YouTube, a lot of discussion here about direct response impact and the opportunity there. What percent of advertisers are buying search only versus buying search and YouTube at this stage? And it looks like from your new disclosure that YouTube decelerated a little bit in the fourth quarter and any color on what’s driving that relative to the full year ’19 growth rate? Thank you.
Ruth Porat: (53:54)
Okay. So taking the first part of that. In terms of the operating margin in the fourth quarter, there were a number of discrete items in the fourth quarter last year, 2018, so that did result in a favorable Google opping here in year comparison for this year. And as you said, the other costs of sales does reflect lower expenses related to hardware and Q4 in particular versus last year. But I think the main point to leave you with is that we do intend to continue to invest aggressively to support growth in the areas that we’ve already talked about quite a bit on this call in search and cloud and hardware and in YouTube.
Ruth Porat: (54:34)
In terms of head counts, I tried to break it out in my closing comments that it starts with those areas putting headcount behind the areas where we’re investing for the longterm. And then we have a couple of additional factors that are somewhat expected to boost the year on year growth rate. One is bringing some support in house that’s op ex neutral, and the other is the Fitbit acquisition. In terms of the third part of your question, I’m just trying to recall it. In terms of the mix, I’m not sure there’s much to add there.
Thank you. And our final question comes from the line of Colin Sebastian from Baird. Your line is now open.
Colin Sebastian: (55:34)
Thank you. I guess first just given the focus and new leadership team in commerce, was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about the opportunities you see for innovation there at the transactional part of the funnel? And then as a quick followup on the acceleration in GCP, beyond the size of the deals, were there particular product areas like big query or something else worth calling out that might’ve inflected to drive that acceleration? Thank you.
Sundar Pichai: (56:01)
Great. On commerce, I’m really excited, Bill Reilly is here. He brings a lot of experience. And you mentioned the transactional part of the funnel. And I think it’s an area where he brings a lot of experience given his prior work. But we definitely see opportunity to improve in the overall user experience in terms of how we present our results, the visual nature of it, making that experience more delightful, and when people are interested in something, how do you make it more seamless to complete the transaction and bringing in deep partnerships with merchants and retailers to making that happen. So excited about the opportunity there, and that’s where we are investing. On GCP, it’s been a lot to do with bringing to bear all the resources we have and engaging well on these deals. And the execution there has been great. And definitely, we see strong traction in data analytics, and so our strength there as a company is definitely contributing significantly as well as our overall leadership in AI.
Colin Sebastian: (57:24)
Thank you. And that concludes our question and answer session for today. I’d like to turn the conference back over to Ellen West for any further remarks.
Ellen West: (57:31)
Thanks everyone for joining us today. We look forward to speaking with you again on our first quarter 2020 conference call. Thank you and have a good evening.
Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes today’s conference call. Thank you for participating and you may now disconnect.