When Facebook changed its name to Meta in September 2021, it became clear that CEO Mark Zuckerberg was fully committed to the pivot from Web2 social media to the metaverse. Now, three years later, one can take a look at just how (financially) committed the company has been, as well as what impact the expansion into virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) has had on Meta’s bottom line ahead of its first-quarter earnings call set for April 24. 

Meta posted a reported revenue of $134.9 billion in 2023, up nearly 16% over 2022. Its fourth-quarter revenue of $40.1 billion set a company record and beat analysts’ predictions. This would seem to indicate that the pivot toward the metaverse has panned out well for the company, but there are mixed signals to interpret ahead of the next call.

Metaverse losses

While Facebook, the social media app, is doing quite well, Meta’s Reality Labs — the research division responsible for products such as the Quest VR headset line — has posted successive year-over-year operating losses totaling around $40 billion since 2021.

Essentially, the company’s revenue has come exclusively via Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp, its suite of social media and messaging apps.

According to a report from UploadVR, Meta has sold approximately 20 million Quest headsets since 2019, as of March 2023. For comparison, Apple sold about 151 million iPhones in 2023 alone while Sony has sold approximately 50 million PlayStation five consoles since 2020, as of December 2023.

Meta shares gains

In Meta’s case, the figures surrounding Reality Labs don’t seem to have phased investors and shareholders. As The Motley Fool recently pointed out, in the same time period that it’s been pouring money into Reality Labs for research and development on the metaverse, it’s also been buying back its own stock at an accelerating pace.

The company has returned $92 billion worth of its own shares since 2021 and reportedly had a war chest with $31 billion available for purchases at the end of 2023, with another $50 billion earmarked for further buybacks in February.

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