Google admits most 'moonshots' lose money

Google's newly formed parent company, Alphabet, this week announced that its "moonshots," or big-bet investments such as self-driving cars, represent less than 1 percent of the organization's total 2015 revenue. Alphabet's "other bets" also decreased the company's profit, carrying a $3.56 billion loss. However, despite such losses, Alphabet overtook Apple to become the most valuable public company in the world following the release of its fourth quarter 2015 earnings call, which was Alphabet's first as a reorganized collection of businesses. 

Alphabet also disclosed new details on its experimental businesses but declined to provide specific financial results for each of the companies, including Google Fiber, Calico, Nest, Verily (formerly Google Life Sciences), Google Ventures (GV), Google Capital, and Google X. These companies collectively contributed $448 million in revenue last year, but that revenue was "primarily generated by Nest, Fiber and Verily," according to Ruth Porat, Alphabet and Google CFO.

"The majority of efforts within the other bets are pre-revenue," Porat said. Alphabet dedicated $869 million in capital expenditures to these other bets in 2015, and those investments were primarily related to the company's budding Fiber broadband business, Porat said.

Broadband service from Google Fiber is currently available in three U.S. cities, and the company plans to soon expand to six additional locations. Google also said it is investigating the idea of bringing Fiber to 11 larger and more populated cities in the future, which would likely increase costs associated with the initiative. Total capital expenditures for Alphabet's other bets jumped up 75 percent in 2015, and revenue increased by 37 percent.

Porat said she expects Fiber to continue to take the lion's share of Alphabet's capital expenditures in 2016. "It obviously increases as we execute in a growing number of cities."

[Related News: Big bets cost Google parent Alphabet $3.6 billion in losses last year]

In an effort to calm investors and set expectations for Alphabet's other bets, Porat said the company recently performed a rigorous budgeting process that resulted in some "tough calls" and a reallocation of resources to maximize long-term potential on the efforts with the greatest opportunities for success. "Given their stages of development, these businesses will have idiosyncrasies with respect to the timing of revenue, expenses, and [capital expenditures] resulting from milestones, partnerships, and other factors," she said. "Given the fact that we are innovating in a number of exciting industries, in some areas the optimal execution path could encourage accelerated investment."

As part of other initiatives including Verily, Alphabet's medical lab, the company is casting a wider net for partnerships with established companies in a variety of industries, such as Johnson & Johnson and Novartis in the healthcare field. "We remain on a journey, and it is still early days," Porat said. "We are working diligently to build additional businesses that create long-term revenues, profits and value."


Matt Kapko

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