Sure, let’s Google it.
Here’s what you’ll find.
You will find news reports of a company that goes by the name Facebook India Online Services Private Limited. According to most news reports, this company has had a good last year. As of March 2018, Facebook India Online recorded total revenue of Rs 521 crore ($72.7 million), a significant jump compared to its total revenue of Rs 341 crore ($47.5 million) in March 2017. Minus all expenses and tax, the company made a profit of Rs 57 crore ($8 million). That’s not a lot of money but neat when compared to a profit of Rs 40 crore ($5.5 million) in the previous year. Mull over it just a little though and perhaps you’ll realise that the number doesn’t quite sit right. It is too small. Both revenue and profit. Facebook made $40 billion in annual revenue in 2017 globally with a net profit of $16 billion. To imagine then, that India, with close to 294 million users—Facebook’s largest user base anywhere in the world—would not even contribute 1% to the company’s total revenue…well, that just seems improbable.
Certainly when you look at Google. Facebook’s closest competitor in the country.
As of March 2018, Google India Private Limited recorded total revenue of Rs 9337 crore ($1.3 billion). A significant jump over the company’s previous year revenue of Rs 7239 crore ($1 billion). The company is profitable, too. It recorded a profit of Rs 407 crore ($56.8 million), as of March 2018.
Now if you go purely by these numbers, you might believe that Google is kicking Facebook’s ass in style. Let’s hold on to that thought. And add complexity.
Late last year, news agency Reuters reported that Google officials in India “were alarmed to learn that Facebook Inc was likely to generate about $980 million in revenue in the country in 2018, according to one of the sources.” $980 million is a lot of money, just shy of a billion dollars, several million more than Facebook India Online’s reported turnover of Rs 521 crore. While the Reuters story said that it arrived at the number from speaking with sources and a small survey, the story went on to add: “The battle in India reflects an epic challenge for Google in developing markets around the world that are crucial to the company’s long-term growth – many consumers in those countries are gravitating to Facebook and its siblings, Instagram and WhatsApp, at the expense of Google search and YouTube, and advertising dollars are quick to follow.”
Perhaps, you see the complexity. Exactly how big is Facebook in India?
“The opacity around this is staggering,” said a former media agency official who has spent more than 30 years in the media-buying business. “It is like you dip your hand in and every time you can come up with something different.”
Facebook wouldn’t officially say what the number is.