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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Shareholders sue Facebook, Zuckerberg, Morgan Stanley

Class action lawsuit, launched Wednesday, alleges info was hidden by Facebook, Morgan Stanley prior to IPO

By Sharon Gaudin (Computerworld)
Less than a week after Facebook's initial public offering, the social networking firm's new shareholders Wednesday filed a class action lawsuit against the company, CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Morgan Stanley and others.
The lawsuit alleges that Facebook executives, including Zuckerberg, CFO David Ebersman, company board members, underwriter Morgan Stanley and others intentionally hid negative views of the company's revenue growth potential prior to last week's IPO.
Facebook officials and its investors could have cause for concern as the lawsuit was filed by Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP, a San Diego-based law firm that won $7 billion for Enron shareholders from the energy firm's investors.
"[Depending] on how this plays out, it could be a big deal if they did something wrong," said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at ZK Research. "We live in such a litigious society that if they are found having hidden information, they could wind up paying out millions of dollars."
On top of the lawsuit, the IPO also is reportedly being investigated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, an independent securities regulator.
Eyebrows were initially raised last Friday when the Facebook's shares failed to hit $50 to $90 a share last Friday after the IPO as some experts had expected. The first day of trading instead ended with a stock price just slightly above it's $38 offer price.
On Monday, the share price sunk to about $34, and then declined a few dollars more yesterday.
Concerns about the offering were further raised late Monday when Reuters reported that analysts at Morgan Stanley, the lead underwriter for the IPO, had cut their Facebook revenue forecasts without informing most investors.
The lawsuit notes that 421 million shares of Facebook sold in the IPO. Earlier today, shares were trading for around $31 per share.
"While defendants pocketed billions of dollars ... plaintiffs and the Class have suffered losses of more than $2.5 billion since the IPO," the legal complaint alleges.
In the months before Facebook's IPO, there was mounting excitement that reached something of a frenzy early last week. Facebook's name filled newspaper and online headlines and was the talk on television newsrooms and around office break rooms.
At the same time, the company did take a few stumbles in the days leading up to the IPO.
For instance, Zuckerberg was publicly chastised for wearing jeans and a hoodie sweatshirt during a presentation to buttoned-down Wall Street investors. His casual appearance left some wondering whether the 28-year-old had the maturity to run a major public company.
And as questions arose about Facebook's ability to monetize its growing base of mobile users, General Motors pulled plans for a major ad buy, explaining that its advertising on Facebook wasn't working as expected.
The lawsuit, the SEC investigation and all the bad press "will hurt the firm's image massively and may force a change at the top," said Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group, who suggested that Facebook hire a professional disaster management team.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Verizon to Kill Unlimited Data Plans for Existing Subscribers

At an investor conference, an exec says the carrier is killing the plan for "grandfathered" customers and will force existing and new customers to sign up for a tiered "data share" plan on its 4G LTE network.
by Marguerite Reardon (CNET)

Verizon Wireless subscribers who have held onto their $30-a-month unlimited data plans will soon be forced to upgrade to a new tiered offering the company plans to launch this summer, according to the Web site Fierce Wireless.
Speaking at the J.P. Morgan Technology Media and Telecom conference today, Verizon Communications CFO Fran Shammo told investors that the company's 3G unlimited data plans that customers were allowed to hang onto last year when Verizon switched to a tiered offering will soon go away entirely. Instead, the company will migrate its existing and new 4G LTE customers to a new "data share plan."
The company has yet to announce the details of this new plan, but it has said previously that the data share plan will be introduced in midsummer. The plan will allow people on the same family plan to share buckets of data each month, much like they share voice minutes and text messaging. It will also allow individuals to share data across different 4G LTE devices.
Verizon eliminated its unlimited data plan for smartphone users last July, about a year after AT&T had done the same thing. Like AT&T had done previously, Verizon told its existing unlimited data plan customers that they could keep their unlimited data plans even after their contracts expired. And Verizon has allowed its 3G wireless subscribers to upgrade to 4G LTE devices, while keeping their unlimited data plans.
But the company was always careful to say that it could change this policy in the future. And now it looks like that day has finally come. The way it will likely work is that as 3G unlimited contracts expire, Verizon will push subscribers to upgrade their devices to smartphones on company's 4G LTE network. These customers will then have to sign up for the data share plans.
"Everyone will be on data share," Shammo said, according to Fierce Wireless. "When they migrate off 3G they will have to go to data share. That is beneficial to us."
Verizon hasn't yet announced pricing details of the new share plans. Shammo said that he believes this new plan will make it easier for families and small businesses to connect multiple devices, Fierce reported. This new plan is meant to encourage people to buy multiple connected devices and to use them on the 4G LTE network, without signing up for an additional data plan.
As this change happens and people connect additional devices to their accounts, Shammo said that the industry will have to change how they account for the revenue. Instead of looking at average revenue per user, he said that the industry should look at average revenue per account.
News of the end of the unlimited data plan is sure to upset some consumers who have held onto their existing accounts specifically for the unlimited benefit.
AT&T also offers this benefit to longtime smartphone customers. But the company has struggled to keep up with the demands of some of these users. In an effort to ensure that "grandfathered" unlimited users don't hog the network, the company began slowing down a proportion of these heavy users. The move outraged many customers. One man sued AT&T in small-claims court and won. AT&T has since changed its policy and now only slows down or throttles users if they exceed 3GB of data per month.
Meanwhile, T-Mobile USA and Sprint Nextel still offer unlimited data plans. T-Mobile also slows down users if they consume too much data each month. But Sprint claims that it is the only major wireless carrier in the U.S. to still offer unfettered unlimited data. Some people question how long the carrier will be able to offer such a plan given the steep rise in data usage.
A Verizon spokeswoman declined to comment on the news.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

GM Says Facebook Ads Don't Pay Off

GM to drop Facebook ads due to low consumer impact

By Ben Klayman and Alexei Oreskovic
DETROIT/SAN FRANCISCO, May 15 (Reuters) - General Motors Co said on Tuesday it will stop advertising on Facebook, even as the social networking website prepares to go public.
While GM gave no specific reason for dropping Facebook ads, a source familiar with the automaker's plans said the company's marketing executives decided Facebook's ads had little impact on consumers.
While GM's decision could be an exception in the advertising world, it marked the first highly visible crack in the Facebook strategy, said Brian Wieser, Internet and media analyst at Pivotal Research Group.
"This does highlight what we are arguing is the riskiness of the overall Facebook business model," he said. "It is not a sure thing. It sure looks likely that it will be one of the most important ad-supported media properties, but it's not certain because there will be marketers who are challenged to prove the effectiveness of the marketing vehicle."
Facebook Inc, founded eight years ago by Mark Zuckerberg in a Harvard dorm room, is expected to start trading on the Nasdaq on Friday. The world's No. 1 social networking site raised its IPO price range on Tuesday, potentially giving the company a valuation of more than $100 billion.
An executive at another large consumer products company said the issue with advertising on Facebook is nobody really knows yet if it works better than traditional media and is worth the money spent. "Is it just a shiny new object, or is it a real value proposition?" said the executive, who asked not to be identified.
GM said it will still have Facebook pages, which cost nothing to create, to market its vehicles. GM pays no fee to Facebook for its pages, which allow the automaker to reach consumers directly.
GM said it regularly reviews how it spends its marketing budget and adjusts its approach as needed.
"It's not unusual for us to move our spending around various media outlets - especially with the growth of multiple social and digital media outlets," the company said in a statement.
"In terms of Facebook specifically, while we currently do not plan to continue with advertising, we remain committed to an aggressive content strategy through all of our products and brands, as it continues to be a very effective tool for engaging with our customers," GM said.
GM spends about $40 million on its Facebook presence, but only about $10 million of that is paid to Facebook for advertising, according to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported GM's plans to drop Facebook ads. The remaining budget covers the creation of content and the advertising and media agencies involved, the newspaper said.
GM, the country's third-largest advertiser behind Procter & Gamble Co and AT&T Inc, spent $1.11 billion on U.S. ads last year, according to Kantar Media, an ad-tracking firm owned by WPP Plc. About $271 million of the total GM spent for ads last year was for online display and search ads excluding Facebook advertising.
Facebook ads make up a small percentage of GM's advertising budget, but the company said it is committed to the website to market its vehicles.
For instance, the Facebook page for the Chevrolet Sonic small car as of 2000 GMT on Tuesday had more than 423,000 "likes." The first three months of Sonic's marketing campaign which began last October were exclusively digital, with TV ads not running until early this year.
While GM rival Ford Motor Co said it was committed to advertising on Facebook, the social media site is just one part of the No. 2 U.S. automaker's marketing strategy. Ford also is boosting its spending on Facebook, including ad buys.
"You just can't buy your way into Facebook," said Ford spokesman Scott Monty. "You need to have a credible presence and be doing innovative things."