Twitter beats Wall Street estimates on earnings but continues to struggle with growth

The big picture: User growth continues to be an issue for Twitter. The social network’s monthly active user count hit 330 million in Q1, up from 321 million in the previous quarter but down from 336 million in the same period a year ago.

Twitter on Tuesday said it generated $787 million in revenue in the first quarter of 2019, an 18 percent increase compared to the same period a year ago. Revenue from advertising totaled $679 million, again representing an 18 percent year-over-year increase.

Costs and expenses for the quarter checked in at $693 million – once again, 18 percent more than the same period in 2018 (notice a trend here?). Even still, Twitter recorded net income of $191 million and earnings per share of $0.25, well above the $61 million and $0.08 earnings per share from the year-ago quarter.

Wall Street analysts were expecting around $775 million in revenue and earnings per share of just $0.15.

CEO Jack Dorsey said Twitter has continued to work to reduce abuse and its effects on the platform. For example, machine learning models are now responsible for detecting around 38 percent of abusive tweets that are taken down each week. They’re also working to make Twitter more conversational with the recent launch of the twttr prototype app.

Looking ahead, Twitter said it expects revenue in the second quarter to be between $770 million and $830 million with operating income between $35 million and $70 million.

Lead image courtesy Sattalat phukkum via Shutterstock

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OpenAI's Dota 2 agents display their dominance over mere mortals one last time

Bottom line: After handily defeating Dota 2 pros last year, OpenAI decided to allow amateur gamers to face off against its Dota playing bots (called ‘agents’) before retiring the team. The results were predictably lopsided.

In total, the AI team, called OpenAI Five, played 7,257 matches and only lost 42 for a win ratio of 99.4 percent. The agents won 4,075 games outright. Human players quit, admitting defeat, 3,140 times. OpenAI Five’s dominance against amateur players is not surprising.

Last summer the bots were pitted against a team of professional Dota players and defeated them 2-1 in a best of three series. Even though the AI did lose one match, it was constrained to a choice of only 18 of the 100 heroes and had its reaction time increased to 200ms from its usual 80ms.

More recently, OpenAI’s agents were tested not only against professionals but with The International 2018 champion, team OG. In the best-of-three match, OpenAI Five swept OG in the first two games making a third round unnecessary.

The Verge notes that at the time of the pairing between OpenAI Five and OG, the agents had already had the equivalent of 45,000 years worth of training.

“OpenAI Five is powered by deep reinforce learning, which means we didn’t code it how to play. We coded it how to learn,” said Greg Brockman, OpenAI’s CTO. “In its 10 months of existence, it’s already played 45,000 years of Dota 2 gameplay. That’s a lot — it hasn’t grown bored yet.”

The OpenAI bots can also play in cooperative mode with humans. Logically, the amateur players enjoyed playing with the agents, more than playing against them. The Verge notes that the cooperative version of the AI received far more attention with more than 35,000 games played.

For now, OpenAI Five is retired. The team will review the data accumulated from the matches and “will use Dota 2 as a research platform for further development of powerful AI systems.”

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Vine spiritual successor Byte enters closed beta testing

Through the looking glass: Vine successor Byte is facing an entirely different landscape than the original did when it launched. At that time, the market was wide open but now, we’ve got apps like TikTok with over 500 million active users and several other established platforms that have already integrated this sort of functionality directly into their service. Can Byte differentiate itself in a crowded market?

Twitter’s decision to end short-form video service Vine was spurred by rival platforms’ adoption of similar (and some would say better) offerings. As marketers increasingly jumped ship, Twitter decided it was best to discontinue the service. Not everyone believes Twitter made the right decision, however, including Vine co-founder Dom Hofmann.

In December 2017, Hofmann announced plans for a successor to Vine. The project, codenamed V2, was ultimately postponed indefinitely due to financial and legal issues (it wasn’t affiliated with Twitter or Vine). Nevertheless, the idea lived on and eventually morphed into a new app called Byte that just entered closed beta testing.

Byte will allow users to record and upload short, looping vertical videos to the app’s feed.

The first 100 invites have already gone out and according to Hofmann, it feels exactly like the friends and family beta for Vine did, right down to the weird but appealing randomness of videos. This will change over time as more users enter the mix, of course, but Hofmann still said it’s “a pretty good sign.”

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Alphabet's drone delivery business, Wing, gets approval to deliver goods to customers in the US

Why it matters: Wing’s FAA approval will pave the way for other drone operators to do the same. And because Wing has already worked out which rules apply to drone operators and which don’t, the process should be far more seamless for others.

Alphabet subsidiary Wing has become the first drone operator to receive Air Carrier Certification by the Federal Aviation Administration, giving the company the green light to begin delivering goods to customers in the states.

US Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao described it as an important step forward for the safe testing and integration of drones into our economy.

Wing, along with moonshot project Loon, graduated from the ranks of X (formerly Google X) to independent businesses under the Alphabet umbrella last summer. X CEO Astro Teller said at the time that the divisions were ready to operate outside the prototyping-focused environment of X.

Drone delivery could have a profound impact on communities across the country. Things like food and medicine can be delivered faster by drone, giving busy individuals more free time. Aerial delivery could also make life easier for those with mobility issues and will reduce both traffic and pollution.

Wing has already logged more than 70,000 test flights and conducted over 3,000 deliveries in Australia. The next step, the company said, will be to conduct further tests in the communities of Blacksburg and Christiansburg in Virginia ahead of a broader rollout later this year.

Lead image courtesy Charles Mostoller, Bloomberg

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Apex Legends' Twitch stream views down 75 percent, could affect EA stock

Why it matters: Thanks to the phenomenal success it experienced in the weeks following its launch, many thought Apex Legends would dethrone Fortnite as the king of the Battle Royale genre. But a new report suggests that’s not the case—at least when it comes to Twitch views.

According to a report by StreamElements (via VGR), Apex Legends was Twitch’s most-watched game within its first week of launch, reaching a peak of over 40 million hours viewed in a single week. At the same time, Fortnite dropped to below 20 million hours in the same week.

But the figures didn’t stay this way: Fortnite’s views soon returned to 22 million hours per week and have stayed there ever since, while Apex Legends has been in a steady decline. Respawn Entertainment’s title dipped below Fortnite in early March and now commands just over 10 million. That means Apex Legends has lost 75 percent of its peak viewership.

While Twitch views aren’t a direct representation of how people are playing a game, or how much money it is generating, some financial analysts believe the apparent waning interest could negatively affect publisher Electronic Arts’ stock.

When Apex Legends arrived, EA paid streaming industry leader Tyler Blevins, better known as Ninja, $1 million to play and promote the game. Other top Twitch streamers were also paid to bring attention to Apex Legends, but many of the most prominent figures no longer play it, while Fortnite remains as popular as always on the platform.

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