In a change that provides increased visibility into its cloud business, Amazon.com now breaks out the performance of Amazon Web Services (AWS) as a separate segment in its quarterly financial reporting.
This is a significant development for the media technology sector because AWS has become synonymous with discussions of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and public cloud usage by media companies. The topic has matured in the past few years and is now a central part of future technology strategies at media organizations.
However, Amazon did not specifically address how much AWS revenue was attributable to the media industry.
Amazon reported that AWS revenue in the first quarter of 2015 was $1.57 billion, up 49% versus the same period a year ago. The reported figures for AWS consist of sales of compute, storage, database, and other AWS service offerings across all customer verticals.
AWS operating income in the first quarter of 2015 was $265m (a 16.9% operating margin), up 8% versus the same period a year ago. Excluding the favorable impact from foreign exchange, AWS segment operating income decreased 13%.
In a letter to shareholders, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said AWS is “a $5 billion business and still growing fast — in fact it’s accelerating.”
Management attributed the growth to a rise in customer usage, though partially offset by reduction in pricing to customers.
The impact of pricing decreases is material. AWS disclosed ‘usage’ growth in the fourth quarter of 2014 of 90% year-over-year. Though not a like-for-like comparison, it is a directional guidance for the gap between usage and revenue caused by pricing decreases.
On the company’s earnings call, Amazon SVP and CFO Tom Szkutak highlighted how the company continues to drive down the cost of AWS, saying “In terms of AWS, we’ve had 48 price decreases since inception. The team is doing a terrific job in terms of working on behalf of customers to pass on savings as they see it. So our model over the long-term really has been to innovate and to use our scale and position to be able to pass savings along to customers.”
For the first quarter of 2015, AWS contributed approximately 7% of the Company’s total revenue. This was an increase versus the 5% of revenue AWS represented during the first quarter of 2014. Despite representing only 7% of Amazon’s revenue, AWS contributed almost 38% of the Company’s operating income. This is because AWS is a meaningfully more profitable business than Amazon’s traditional online retail operations. AWS operating margins were nearly 17% in Q1 2015, which compares favorably to Amazon’s other businesses that in aggregate had operating margins of 2% during the first quarter. A focus on operating margins ignores the interest expense attributable to the financing of equipment for AWS, which is not disclosed.
Even though growth was substantial at AWS during 2015, there is some curiosity around how the business scaled. While revenue increased by 49%, operating income increased only 8% since operating expenses increased 61% over the same period. The Company attributed the expense offset to investments in technology infrastructure to support business growth. Some caution is necessary before drawing broader conclusions on how the business will scale since we have only limited data points at this time.
Additional disclosures in Amazon’s filings are illustrative of the level of investment in technology infrastructure. The Company’s capital expenditures (cash) were $871 million in Q1 2015 and $1.1 billion in Q1 2014. A majority of this investment was attributable to AWS. Property and equipment acquired under capital leases (non-balance sheet items) were $954 million in Q1 2015 and $716 million during Q1 2014. Again, the investments are primarily due to investments in technology infrastructure for AWS.
Discussing the ongoing investment required for the AWS business, Szkutak told analysts “from our perspective its business that’s still really in day one. A lot of potential innovation in front of us we believe. And so you can see we’re putting a lot of CapEx obviously there and including capital leases and we think over time we will be able to generate significant free cash flow with stronger ROICs.”
Whatever percentage a majority represents the resulting aggregate investment is considerable. Media companies leveraging AWS are benefiting from a technology infrastructure built by investments made possible from expansive operations in other industries. To put the scale of Amazon’s infrastructure in context to the media technology sector, consider the Company’s 2014 cash capital expenditures and equipment purchases under capital leases totaled a combined $8.9 billion (AWS is the largest driver of this spend, but does not consume all of this number). This figure represents approximately one-third of all annual product sales in the media and broadcast technology sector based on the latest results of the IABM DC Global Market Valuation Report (www.iabmdc.com).
In his shareholder letter, Bezos said that even though AWS is highly capital-intensive, it is far less capital-intensive than the model it’s replacing. Bezos cites utilization rates for internal data centers as almost always below 20%. By aggregating workloads across customers AWS can then achieve much higher utilization rates and correspondingly improved capital efficiency.
This point was highlighted on the earnings call by Brian Olsavsky, VP and CFO of Amazon’s global consumer business, who said “It’s probably is worth adding that, although prices are factor, the primary factor for customers choosing with AWS is really around their ability to move quickly and to be nimble and agile. And so we’re very pleased with the kind of continued adoption and usage growth we’ve seen and obviously the benefits of AWS around their ability — customer’s ability — to be nimble as a primary factor.
CFO Szkutak added that the 48 price decreases since the launch of AWS is “one factor customers save a lot of money, but the primary motivator is really around the innovation that AWS enables and the ability for developers to move really quickly.”
Speed and agility are increasingly important to media companies, yet the specialized technology products used in media workflows often have low utilization rates – especially those used for certain types of news and sports applications. In an environment where media companies are focused on greater efficiencies in technology infrastructure, improving these rates are a natural place to start.
The amount of revenue attributable to media and entertainment use cases is left to the imagination. Amazon has stated publicly AWS has more than a million active customers. Companies using AWS range across all sizes and business segment. Media and entertainment examples include Netflix, Major League Baseball, PBS, and News Corp. During his fireside chat keynote at “Shifting Media Economics: Impact on Strategy, Finance, and Technology” the annual conference co-produced by Devoncroft and organizers of the NAB Show, Bob Bowman President of MLB Advanced Media had high praise for AWS as a technology supplier.
To Amazon’s credit, the company participates at industry exhibitions including the recent NAB Show and the team is similarly visible at other industry events. We are evangelists for broader IT vendors engaging with the industry vendor community and customer community. Such focus has proven episodic from many large IT vendors historically, so it will be interesting to track Amazon’s engagement with interested parties in the sector going forward – a $5 billion business has many distractions.
AWS specifically and cloud vendors more broadly, are benefiting from a secular trend toward cloud usage among media and entertainment sector. Included below is a slide taken from a Devoncroft presentation at the recent NAB Show; it offers context on the adoption of cloud by media companies. One of the benefits of having seven years of Big Broadcast Survey data is the ability to reflect on year-over-year trend information – even if the data is in the form of broadcaster commentary. As illustrated in the below, the ‘cloud’ benefited from an embrace by technology purchasers during the 2013 calendar year.
This increasing adoption and deployment of cloud technologies and services is in stark contrast with perspectives provided only a few years earlier.
Of course, any discussion of Cloud naturally transitions to a discussion of security given the recent high-profile security breaches. We heard this multiple times from at the recent 2015 NAB Show during conversations with major media companies, broadcasters, and service providers.
Security of media assets in the cloud was also an important topic at “Shifting Media Economics: Impact on Strategy, Finance, and Technology” the annual conference co-produced by Devoncroft and organizers of the NAB Show. During a panel session featuring senior technology buyers from major North American media companies, it was observed by participants that businesses such as AWS are likely spending far more time, money, and resources on security than even the largest stand-alone media company could muster.
Whether such logic is extensible will translate into a shift of media infrastructure to public cloud providers such as AWS remains to be seen.
Our research shows that while many in the media industry are using AWS today for a variety of tasks, most high value content is currently being managed via private cloud implementations.
An interesting data point on the subject of private versus public cloud adoption in media was offered by Avid CEO Louis Hernandez, Jr. at the Jefferies Growth Conference earlier this year. While describing how the company’s licensing models are evolving at different customer types, Hernandez said “Our large enterprise clients are sticking with on premise [implementations]… [they] are moving to a floating license and flexing in a pre-negotiated subscription on a project basis. Who’s buying cloud and subscriptions? Individuals.”
Nevertheless, AWS is a formidable business. Amazon’s ability to continually invest the huge sums needed to greater compute, network, and storage performance at ever-lower prices can undoubtedly drive increased efficiencies for media companies. Thus the market potential for AWS in the media space is potentially vast. In his letter to shareholders, Jeff Bezos summed up as follows, “I believe AWS is one of those dreamy business offerings that can be serving customers and earning financial returns for many years into the future…I believe AWS is market-size unconstrained.”
Press Release: Amazon.com Announces First Quarter Sales Up 15% to $22.72 Billion
Q1 2015 Amazon.com, Inc. Earnings Conference Call Slides
Amazon Q1 2015 Form 10-Q Filing
Amazon.com Q1 2015 Letter to Shareholders
Industry Thought Leaders to Discuss “Shifting Media Economics: Impact on Strategy, Finance, and Technology” at 2015 NAB Show
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