More than one year into his return to Twitter, CEO Jack Dorsey has little to show for his efforts. User growth is flat, revenue growth is slowing and there have yet to be any new hit features. Dorsey finds himself in an all-too-familiar position, one his predecessor, Dick Costolo, knew well: asking investors for patience. Yet again, a CEO of Twitter is assuring shareholders he has a plan. This time, the thing that's going to save Twitter is live streaming.
"We are making sure first and foremost that we are focusing on the quality of the experience and that the experience stays up. We're putting a lot of thought and effort into our architecture and infrastructure around live streaming," said Dorsey in Twitter's earnings call on Tuesday. "We're really measuring and making sure that we're being thoughtful about how to develop that."
Twitter's second quarter of 2016 brought very little to feel optimistic about. The company managed to gain just 3 million new users while missing on analyst estimates for revenue and earnings per share. Additionally, the company lowered forecasts for the next earnings period, unsurprisingly sending its stock price tanking more than 10 percent in after-hours trading.
Twitter has "stopped growing, they can't figure out how to make money and they're not coming up with new features," said Sal Recco, chief operating officer at Gravity Investments. "I haven't seen a report this bad in a while."
It seems Dorsey and company are treating this period as a foundational time to prepare for the fall when it will finally kick off its live streaming of Thursday NFL games. Twitter has also added to its slate of sports programming by announcing new deals on Monday that will allow the social network to broadcast MLB and NHL games as well.
"Twitter's streaming of sports events is an interesting twist in an otherwise bleak story," said James Gellert, CEO of Rapid Ratings, a financial health ratings firm. "It's hard to predict how large and active a user base they can grow for these given the plethora of options one has to watch sports, but advertisers love sports audiences. Time will tell if this is a smart investment or terrible use of cash."
For a service that's built around live events and real-time commentary, this plan might just work, but after years of disappointing quarterly results that are always presented with a promise of "next time we'll do better," analysts and investors' patience is quickly beginning to run out.
"There's lots of language in the shareholder letter about things taking time, and that's been something of a theme since Dorsey took over a year ago," said Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research. "You'd have hoped there would have been more progress by now."
More concerning is whether Twitter's live-streaming plan can actually work. As Twitter spends big bucks on deals with America's top sports leagues, Facebook has been beefing up its own live-streaming offering. The tech giant has been spending millions getting news outlets and celebrities to broadcast live streams as part of a strategy that encroaches on Dorsey's plan to dominate real-time conversations.
"As for live streaming, it makes sense. But hey, Facebook is doing the same thing and can leverage its massive user base and financial resources," said Tom Taulli, analyst at InvestorPlace.com. "Besides, the revenue guidance shows that this effort will probably not be material for a while."