back to article US watchdog just gave up trying to get Google to explain YouTube's huge financial figures

In a series of alternatively baffling, amusing and darn-right ridiculous letters, Google-parent Alphabet has told America's financial watchdog to effectively mind its own business when it comes to its income. On Monday, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) published six months' worth of correspondence between its staff …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Its easy enough to explain actually...

    You do all the work and they keep all the money....


    Success’ on YouTube Still Means a Life of Poverty

    1. sloshnmosh

      Re: Its easy enough to explain actually...

      What about that Logan Paul dude: Logan, on average makes between $80.5K - $1.3M a month.

      1. ratfox

        Re: Its easy enough to explain actually...

        I cannot think that storing and serving an exabyte of cat videos comes cheap. Maybe they consider YouTube as a loss leader?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Youtube as a loss leader

          I have no idea if that's the case, but let's say that's true - it is still utterly ridiculous for Google to claim that the CEO of Google, or the executive in charge of Youtube, can't see figures for revenue and cost for Youtube. Just because a business decides to pursue a loss leader strategy doesn't mean they don't care how much loss there is.

          Let's say you have a grocery store and decide to make milk a loss leader. You still care how much that loss is - because the whole "loss leader" premise is that you will make it up via greater overall sales. Lose $500 a day on cheap milk and make an extra $1000 from the increased traffic that results.

          It isn't clear to me how Youtube as a loss leader is going to lead to more money elsewhere in Google, but that would have to be the case for it to be a valid business strategy rather than an illegal anticompetitive tactic. And you have to know how much Youtube is losing to know whether it is paying off overall when you add in whatever extra revenue that strategy somehow brings in.

          1. David 164

            Re: Youtube as a loss leader

            I'm sure the person in charge of Youtube does.

            But the rule state that Alphabet only have to show the numbers that Alphabet chairman sees and I doubt Page bother with reading details account information about how Youtube is performing, he just doesn't seem like that kind of bloke from everything i have read about him.

    2. BillG

      Re: Its easy enough to explain actually...

      "Revenue is recognized as the customer simultaneously receives and consumes the benefits of the services over time. Generally, this results in measuring progress towards the satisfaction of our performance obligations on an output method, based on units of service delivered or days elapsed in a contractual term."

      This is deliberately confusing. It's intention is for an SEC auditor to (select one): A) Waste time analyzing it with no result, B) Tell their boss "I don't understand this" (not likely), or C) Give up.

      Google's Motto: "Do No Evil!".

  2. Youngone Silver badge

    Lawsuits Ahoy!

    I'm sure a shareholder will use this to come up with a reason to sue Google or Alphabet or whatever.

    There's no point in not taking advantage is there?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In the U.S. he who...

    ...has the gold makes the rules. Money can buy whatever legal outcome is desired. Look at the DOJ's suit against Microsoft and countless other suits where enough money changes hands and magically the problem goes away. The EU is the only government entity to ever impose a token fine against Microsoft. The other countries bow at the feet of Sir Dollar Bill.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "The EU is the only government entity to ever impose"

      The EU ruling did more - it forced Microsoft to document its APIs and made them publicly available (although not all of them free to use without a license). That made a great boost to open source software that no longer had to reverse engineering everything for compatibility.

      Anyway, an €860 million fine doesn't really look a "token" one. Sure, Microsoft loses far more with each acquisition it makes, but judges can't act like a bad CEO.

      1. Jeremy Allison

        Re: "The EU is the only government entity to ever impose"

        LDS wrote:

        > "The EU ruling did more - it forced Microsoft to document its APIs and made them publicly available"

        Not API's, *PROTOCOLS*. There's a *BIG* difference - although no one seems to understand why (I blame lack of technical education in schools :-).

        No one gave a monkeys about their API's (unless you're writing code for Windows, in which case why do you care if other systems are successful or not), they are *useless* for Open Source, it's the on the wire *PROTOCOLS* that allow interop or not.

        Trust me, I know what I'm talking about w.r.t. to EU vs Microsoft case :-).

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "The EU is the only government entity to ever impose"

          You're right, it's the protocols, file formats and some algorithms - which is all you need for interoperability across a network.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: In the U.S. he who...

      Well, there's a new God Emperor in town and he can't be bought by the likes of Google. Trying times for them, the next seven years.

    3. Pseudonymous Clown Art

      Re: In the U.S. he who...

      Dollars aren't British and therefore can't be Knighted.

      It's Mr Dollar Bill.

  4. Jared Vanderbilt

    Bottom line is what counts

    Every Fortune 500 company throws up a smoke screen around their cash cow(s). It's best that the competition not know where the ridiculous margins are to be had.

    As far as the investors go, they don't care where the cash comes from, they only care that it continues to flow in. The best way for management to maintain profitability is to obscure its source from those who can take it away.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bottom line is what counts

      As far as the investors go, they don't care where the cash comes from, they only care that it continues to flow in. The best way for management to maintain profitability is to obscure its source from those who can take it away.

      Hmm, well at least some of Google's investors sued them over their corporate behaviour. Google's (Alphabet's?) corporate constitution doesn't grant any voting rights to shareholders, at least not for the type of share that you can actually buy. The company still has a fiduciary duty of care to these shareholders, but doesn't go any way towards explaining to them how it is seeing to that duty. Instead all they get is news reports of fines in Europe, grandiose projects, and headline profit reports. Whether or not that profit turns into dividend is another matter, I don't know that.

      Despite the profit, there is reason for shareholders to be asking serious questions of Google's strategy. They completely messed up their China strategy, which will slowly mean missing out on India, Africa and large chunks of South East and East Asia too. These are big markets to miss out on. They're one of several companies heavily exposed to the risk of tax, content and competition fines and regulations in the EU; their business model might just become unsustainable there in the coming years. That's another big market to risk losing. Yet the company, which is notoriously opaque, won't let shareholders evaluate that failing and exposure for themselves.

      One way or other I don't see the SEC going quite on the matter as being a good sign. Ask anyone in Enron what it's like when the SEC gets angry... It could be a very bad sign for Google / Alphabet.

      Options available to the SEC is to start off legislative changes to force all companies to change their corporate constitutions, and oblige them to be more transparent. If the SEC thinks that the national economy is somehow threatened by too many companies behaving in a Google like way, they'll get worried about it.

      There is a need for some delicacy; their ultimate boss might not like the idea of new legislation that changes laws on corporate constitutions and transparency...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "they only care that it continues to flow in."

      Exactly, and smart investors want to understand if it will happen - and without a good insight where money comes from and where spent, you can't know it - you'll have to trust execs blindly, and more than once it meant the cash stopped to flow, and investment were lost. Only a stupid investors just look at what he or she earned last quarter.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Youtube has many uses

    I have found shell code in hex form in comments under obscure videos and followed the many links to even more weird sites/links/videos/comments.

    I've heard of users communicating with steganography embedded in music etc.

    There is a whole other internet on Youtube if you want to go down that rabbit hole.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Youtube has many uses

      The corporate risk for Google, Alphabet, is that not all of this communication is going to be salubrious. Some of it will be illegal, quite probably. It's easy to imagine headlines like "Google, the paedo's friend". Pretty sure the Daily Mail has already run headlines like that...

      Every instance of someone misusing Google's, or Facebook's or Twitter's or anyone else's platform is a threat to the open, pseudo-anonymous nature of those platforms. They're proving incapable of cleaning up their own networks, so something is going to give way (probably the whole business model). They ought to be very worried about that.

      If they don't start adapting their business model (paid? Therefore they do actually know who their users are?) they're risking a complete crash, at least in some markets.

      1. Indolent Wretch

        Re: Youtube has many uses

        "They're proving incapable of cleaning up their own networks, so something is going to give way (probably the whole business model). They ought to be very worried about that."

        Or they just don't tidy up. The world keeps spinning and everyone gets on with their lives including Daily Mail leader writers.

        Communications systems will be abused. They always have been. They always will be. I don't want to live in a world where they can't be.

        The misuse is only a threat if organizations like Google/Facebook and people like us allow the politicians and Express-reading-frothing-mouth-nazis determine what happens next.

  6. graeme leggett Silver badge

    Jurisdictional question

    Although Alphabet may tell SEC that their financials are too complex to explain, do they give the same story to the IRS if they come asking?

    1. Lysenko

      Re: Jurisdictional question

      Obviously, the IRS could investigate Alphabet down to the last paperclip, and that would entail calculating the exact trading and financial position of YouTube, but they can only do that if they have grounds to suspect tax evasion, not just because they were bored and curious nor at the behest of Wall Street "activist investors" who are only interested in pump and dumping (or shorting) share positions to create magic money over a 90 day timeframe. Scratch the surface of this SEC fishing expedition and that's what you'll find.

  7. quattroprorocked

    SEC have them where they want them

    They now have a paper trail in which Larry denies getting specific info that they, you me and anyone else running a business would expect him to get.

    Larry is one law suit discovery process away from internal documents showing just how accurate these statements have been. And the SEC will be waiting to read them as well.

    He's a CEO in the USA, how far away is that lawsuit?

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: SEC have them where they want them

      >He's a CEO in the USA, how far away is that lawsuit?

      Probably closer than the Ecuadorian embassy...

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Alphabet (Google) is the retail arm of the NSA

    No wonder the SEC backed off.

  9. ForthIsNotDead

    It used to be cool...

    ...but now it's staffed by lesbian communist social justice warriors that censor Pat Condell videos.

    And that's just the male staff.

    I long ago stopped interacting with the site. I run ad-blockers, in private mode, don't like/dislike anything, leave no comments, and mostly don't even log in.

    As far as they're concerned, I just consume their bandwidth.

    Fuck 'em.

    Google really are the mob of the internet.

    1. Indolent Wretch

      Re: It used to be cool...

      "lesbian communist social justice warriors"

      Yeah Google are the mob... That's clear from your nasty rhetoric.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    industrial-grade horse shit

    superior quality, finest grade, that one. And, as demonstrated, does the job brilliantly, profit by mega fog machine cranked to overdrive...

    1. a pressbutton

      Re: industrial-grade horse shit

      ... and also definitely not evil.

      Don't forget that.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If Google are allowed to tell the SEC to get lost then we know the Kleptocracy is, nearly?, complete.

  12. Blotto Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Obi Wan Page

    These are not the financial figures your looking for.

  13. handleoclast

    Underlying mode of operationi

    There's no practical distinction between google and youtube. Both track you in order to learn more about you in order to target you with advertising. They populate and make use of a shared database about their consumers. One serves up search results and the other serves up videos, but that's a minor distinction.

  14. Indolent Wretch

    Strange article. The author continually trumpets size, vastness and wealth as irrefutable reasons why the YouTube figures should be broken out.... and then nonchalantly drops in "... contributes roughly 10 per cent of Google's revenue". That's of revenue, not profit. Of Google, not Alphabet...

    1. Phukov Andigh Bronze badge


      the author has to guess that 10 percent figure. since its not actually released. could be much higher, much lower, or anywhere in the middle.

  15. Claptrap314 Silver badge

    Corporate structure

    I find the position of these "activist investors" odd. The Goog's corporate structure has always been odd in that they effectively don't sell voting rights. They'll let you in on the profit & loss, but that's it. If that doesn't tell you that you're not going to get details on their operations, I don't know what does. You bought these shares & only now you notice the lack of transparency? I don't think that I would want to announce that fact to the people that I reported to.

    These are like the assholes that buy a house next to a power plant and then complain about the smell.

    Don't get me wrong, the G sounds way out of line here. But I don't get the institutionals at all.

  16. tb3

    Don't Underestimate Incompetence

    Reading this, I'm wondering if we're not getting in a huff what's more about Google messing up its own financial assessments. Are we sure they're that competent?

    I bet YouTube and Display Ads are two different fiefdoms in that company, and this probably has people putting their heads up their rears. Groaning about the difficulty in accurately tying this display ad page view to click through to monetization to youtube, etc.

    Sure, there's BS here. It's not impossible to tie together the #s -- by Larry would have to be demanding that - the rulers of each fiefdom certainly doesn't care. See? Incompetence could be the issue.

    1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

      Re: Don't Underestimate Incompetence

      Been there. Not. A. Chance. They know.

  17. David 164

    Page probably doesn't care about how much Youtube is contributing to Google. All he cares about is that the whole shabang is making enough money to fund side projects like Waymo and probably a whole host of others we never hear about.

    1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

      G prides itself on the wealth of data that it used to drive the business, in EVERY sphere. Because they know how valuable such information is. And Page is not about to share.

  18. diagramchaser

    A black box even to them

    To be fair to the comment ""Google is largely a single online advertising business, with other smaller product areas within the Google ecosystem," it stated with a straight face." - I imagine that that is basically true. The point of Youtube is probably less to sell ads on Youtube (which may or may not pay for the cost of Youtube), and more to gain that much more info on user preferences based on what Youtube videos you watch to give you hyper-targeted ads on all Google websites. How much Youtube contributes to increased ad prices on other pages is probably not totally clear, not the least because we are at the point where no single human being really understands the underlying algorithms for what ad you see. (I imagine they can do A/B testing where they have some small subset of users who get ads based on all information except whatever they do on Youtube and they see how many fewer clicks they get. The thing is that, if they do that one Google product at a time seeing how many clicks are added in by that product's information all else being equal to get the "added revenue" per product, the sum over the products won't add up to the total revenue because data they get from Youtube may interact in complicated ways with data they get from search to produce some really well-targeted ads they wouldn't get with one but not the other. So breaking down total revenue into a sum of revenues from each product is probably actually impossible.)

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