News report

Elon Musk’s support means Twitter needs ads to stay in the air

Billionaire Elon Musk has spoken out against Twitter’s content moderation practices.


Photo:

Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald/Associated Press

Wall Street has long known that it is better to play with other people’s money. But in Elon Musk’s case, other people’s money may limit how much he can play with Twitter.

TWTR 5.64%

The campaign of the richest person in the world on paper to take over the social network has proven to be a success. Twitter announced on Monday afternoon that a deal had been reached, at a price of $54.20 per share in cash, which was Mr. Musk’s initial offer of April 14. last week, reporting $46.5 billion in financial backing for the offering.

It remains unclear what would ultimately become of Twitter under Mr. Musk’s ownership. The accepted offer puts a $5 billion a year advertising business in the hands of someone who has publicly questioned Twitter’s advertising business model and whose current company – Tesla – does not buy any advertising. The self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist” also spoke out against Twitter’s content moderation practices, which are designed to keep toxic content away from the social network and make it safer for advertisers. Brian Wieser, global president of business intelligence at ad-buying giant GroupM, says most advertisers who work with Twitter “strongly prefer content standards” over the service.

That may not matter much to Mr Musk, who said of his own Twitter campaign that it was “not a way to make money” in an onstage interview at the Ted talk, the same day of the filing outlining his financial support. . But more than half of that support comes in the form of debt, from Morgan Stanley and “certain other financial institutions,” according to the filing. That means Mr. Musk will have to preserve Twitter’s cash flow — and ideally grow it — to pay off the debt. Some of that debt comes in the form of margin loans backed by Mr. Musk’s Tesla stock.

To do this without advertising would be difficult. Ads now make up nearly 90% of Twitter’s revenue, while data licensing provides most of the rest. The company launched Twitter Blue, its first consumer subscription offering, last year and rolled it out to the US market in November. Chief executive Parag Agrawal said on Twitter’s latest earnings call in February that the company had seen a “strong response” from “our most intensive users” for the service. But he added that Blue was “not critical” to hitting $7.5 billion in revenue in 2023, a target set at an analyst meeting in early 2021.

Mr. Musk will likely have his own goals in mind, and a private Twitter would be accountable only to him for achieving them. But since Mr. Musk has chosen not to pay Twitter entirely out of his own pocket, he will also have to be accountable to others.

Elon Musk struck a deal on Monday to buy Twitter for around $44 billion, bringing the world’s richest man one step closer to taking over the social media platform. Photo: Ryan Lash/TED Conferences, LLC/AFP via Getty Images

Write to Dan Gallagher at [email protected]

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