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100 mn users and counting, but Facebook's India fortunes dip

By Sounak Mitra
November 08, 2014 08:07 IST
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Image: Mark Zuckerberg with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi.
Photograph: PIB.

For Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who visited the country for the first time in October, India might be one of his "priority markets". 

And the company's chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, who came calling in July, might have declared that Facebook has "already started monetising in India" and its growth phase is "well on track". 

But despite the hype around Facebook's over 100 million and growing number of users in India, the performance of Facebook India Online Services Pvt Ltd, its Indian arm, is nothing much to write home about. 

The company saw its turnover go up to Rs 97.65 crore (Rs 976.5 million), missing the magic three-digit mark in fiscal 2013-14. In the previous year it had made Rs 75.64 crore (Rs 756.4 million), according to filings with the Registrar of Companies (RoC). 

What is more surprising is that its profits have come down. Facebook's net profit in India came down dramatically to Rs 1.21 crore (Rs 12.1 million) in FY14 from Rs 9.6 crore (Rs 96 million) reported in FY13. The company was incorporated in India on May 7, 2010. 

The company has not been able to monetise its large subscriber base. As a result, the growth in revenues has slowed down. In 2013-14, revenues grew by just over 29 per cent over the previous year. However, the growth in revenue in 2012-13 over the previous year grew by 67.86 per cent. 

Facebook chief creative officer Mark D'Arcy, who was in the country a few days ago, urged Indian companies to integrate their advertising strategies with those of Facebook rather than looking at it as only a social networking tool. 

In striking contrast, Google, which runs its India business through Google India Pvt Ltd, reported revenue of Rs 3,050.69 crore (Rs 30.50 billion) for the fiscal year ended March 2014, an increase of 47 per cent compared with Rs 2,076.79 crore (Rs 20.76 billion) reported in the previous year, according to a recent filing with RoC.

It also made a net profit of Rs 131.35 crore (Rs 1.31 billion) in 2013-14, down from Rs 139.31 crore (Rs 1.39 billion) in the previous year. However, Google has a more diversified portfolio of business. 

With more than 100 million users, Facebook also publicly says it is a media platform which has more audience than the cumulative readership of India's top 10 newspapers. But it has a long road to cover when one sees the revenues of one of the large newspaper outfits, Bennett Coleman & Company (BCCL), which runs the country's largest circulated English daily The Times of India

BCCL reportedly crossed $1.5 billion in revenues in the year ended March 2011. 

According to its balance sheet in 2013-14, Facebook has received Rs 97.65 crore from "rendering of services related party transactions".

But, the company also noted in the balance sheet that its revenue came from "export of computer software services".

In its balance sheet, it did not show revenue from advertisements, if any. Facebook has stated that its directors are continuously looking for avenues for future growth of the company in the software development services industry. 

Other social networking sites such as LinkedIn and Twitter are also not making money in India. It's still a game of customer acquisition. 

While the latest figures are not available, LinkedIn Technology Information Ltd, the Indian arm of LinkedIn Corporation, reported a profit after tax of Rs 4.7 crore (Rs 47 million) during 2012-13, up from Rs 1.9 crore (Rs 19 million) the previous year.

The company did not furnish its revenue figures but its reserves and surplus were Rs 7.14 crore (Rs 71.4 million) in 2012-13, against Rs 2.43 crore (Rs 24.3 million) in 2011-12. 

Twitter Communications India Pvt Ltd, with about 40 million users in the country, has not submitted its balance sheet to the RoC because it was incorporated on February 20, 2013.

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Sounak Mitra in New Delhi
Source: source