Despite ballooning operating losses (nearly $250 million) and an advertising downturn, Roku’s stock soared a day after it reported fourth-quarter earnings on Feb. 15. Part of this came as the number of active users picked up to 70 million and the Anthony Wood-led firm beat revenue expectations for the quarter. Roku also promised to tighten its expenses moving forward, with a plan to reach positive adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization in 2024.
But, longer term, Wall Street’s view on the stock remains mixed, depending on how much belief there is that Roku can maintain its place as a key gatekeeper in the streaming landscape with its media player. (Roku’s stock sat at $71.59 as of market close on Feb. 17.)
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A team of analysts at investment bank Evercore (which has an $80 price target for the firm) note that Roku has an outsized exposure to the scatter ad market (ad slots held back during up front sales) which has been increasingly pressured over the past few months. Roku, the analysts note, has not been able to benefit from political or sports ad spending, which has helped other ad-based businesses through the downturn. They see a business model that isn’t broken per se, but rather one that has been contending with some rather large headwinds. And one that could improve once those headwinds die down.
Roku gave weaker than expected guidance for the next quarter, but many analysts believe the company is being conservative, with Wells Fargo analyst Steven Cahall writing, somewhat optimistically, that “The ad market in Q1 sounds like it’s neither getting worse nor better.” (Cahall has a $67 price target on Roku.) A Guggenheim research team led by Michael Morris regarded Roku’s account base as “valuable” but noted that “we struggle to value the business given the inconsistency of results relative to guidance and the cautionary macro-economic tone cited by management.”
The positives for Roku going forward include the company’s plan to moderate expense growth (a plan that only those bullish on the stock believe in), the fact that Roku Channel is seeing increasing engagement, with streaming hours up more than 85 percent from the prior year and its shoppable advertising partnership with Walmart. Also a plus is the company’s hiring of three new executives this past fall, including former CEO of Fox Entertainment, Charlie Collier, who is now leading Roku’s advertising and content business, including Roku Originals, and is known for doing less with more. “We believe Roku can leverage its advantages in pricing and merchandising to remain the market leader in consumer-facing connected television solutions,” wrote a team of analysts at investment bank Oppenheimer, which is bullish on the firm with an $85 price target.
Similarly, Macquarie’s Tim Nollen, who has a $70.10 price target on Roku, wrote: “We’re optimistic that the downturn seen throughout ’22 will end in Q1’23, and that Roku’s large and growing installed user base and improvements to its ad tech and partnerships can lead to recovery this year.”
But taking a decidedly downbeat view on the stock, MoffettNathanson analysts (who have a $38 price target) see Roku being negatively impacted by the larger pressures facing steaming companies. The stock had been artificially propped up by the streaming wars, these experts argue, which led all the major media companies to spend on content and marketing in pursuit of subscriber numbers. This ultimately benefited Roku’s platform and advertising business. But now, the tides have turned as companies such as Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery and AMC Networks look to cut spending.
“We are not luddites, yes, we see the future as streaming. Yes, we see the continuing (frightening) pressures facing the linear model. However, the current reality is that Roku’s biggest customers are now grappling with the economics of these pressures and are starting to pause the rapid escalation in streaming spending,” the MoffettNathanson analysts wrote.
Roku’s latest revenue push takes it away from those pressures, as the company unveiled plans in January to manufacture its own branded TV sets. However, MoffettNathanson analysts see the plan to manufacture, rather than continuing to partner with outside companies, as weighing on the profit margins. Pivotal Research Group’s Jeffrey Wlodarczak (who has a $55 price target) also expressed “serious reservations” about the company’s move into home devices, adding: “The bottom line is that the outlook remains choppy for Roku going forward.”