Today: Facebook unveils a new look to its News Feed that allows more customization, and will possible new advertising uses. Also, Pandora shares soar on positive earnings, but company also announces its CEO is leaving; and Dow closes at another all-time high.
Analysts like changes to Facebook's News Feed
While Facebook focused on a new design for its signature News Feed offering at an event Thursday, and investors will be more interested in advertising uses for that environment, users will likely be most enthused about the ability to have more control of what appears on the social-media offering, with separate feeds offering a full stream of real-time updates for the first time since Facebook began curating posts for users.
Facebook's event didn't surprise many observers, as the social-networking leader was expected to show off a News Feed redesign that included richer media. The actual look and feel that Mark Zuckerberg showed off at the beginning of the meeting resembles Google (GOOG)+, with photos appearing much larger and with overlayed type and shared links appearing larger and with logos and other doodads.
Speaking to a crowd of reporters at his company's Menlo Park headquarters, Zuckerberg called it a "richer, simpler, more beautiful News Feed" that will be like a "personalized newspaper."
The "personalization" Zuckerberg spoke of is apparent in users' ability to control what appears in their feed, a sore point for many Facebook users recently summed up by New York Times writer Nick Bilton in a column that received widespread attention and even a public response from Facebook. The gist: Facebook users don't see every post from every friend or entity they follow, as Facebook instead uses an algorithm to decide what each individual user sees, while offering everyone the chance to pay a fee to get their post in front of more of their friends/followers.
Facebook's revamped News Feed offers users new options that seems to help that complaint, as it will offer several different feeds that include a full, real-time list of all of your friends' updates, as well as a list of people, news sources and more that a user follows, among other options. Meanwhile, the main News Feed that will be shown by default will continue to be populated by a mixture of posts decided by Facebook's algorithms.
"This is really about getting Facebook out of the way as much as possible," Facebook executive Chris Cox said in Thursday's presentation.
If Facebook is generating any meaningful revenues from its option of purchasing more eyeballs for companies' posts, these new options could cut into that. However, investors seemed to like Thursday's news, with gains of more than 2 percent before the presentation begin swelling 4 percent by the close, with shares ending the day's session up $1.12, to $28.57
Though Facebook did not mention advertising at the event, it did show that its new News Feed would appear the same on desktop and mobile devices, which could simplify and amplify Facebook's mobile advertising offerings.
The media-rich offering also increases the likelihood of video advertising in users' news feeds, which has long been rumored. In its most recent earnings report conference call, Zuckerberg said that advertisers do want more media-rich ads, but Facebook would have to enhance the posts seen in News Feed and have users get used to that offering before such advertising would make sense.
Analysts said Facebook's ability to tailor ads to users' interests and possibly offer video advertising, a more luctarive offering, could boost the company's finances and make the stock a better buy.
"When 1 billion users are given the ability to filter news according to personal preference and then further self-select with 'likes' and 'shares,' this creates a highly targeted audience for advertisers," Holly Hamann, co-founder and CMO of tech marketing company Blogfrog. "Increasing the amount of content viewed is another plus for advertisers."
Hussein Fazal, the CEO of Facebook-ad agency AdParlor, agreed. "Larger images will result in higher click through-rates, a higher level of engagement and better performance," he told Reuters.
In the meantime, users can sign up for the renovated News Feed on Facebook's website and begin kvetching about or praising the changes.
"I fully predict a minority of users will rail against it," Gartner tech analyst Brian Blau predicted to The Mercury News, but he won't be one of them. "I think it's a positive change, overall," he said.
Pandora shares soar as it looks for new CEO
Longtime Pandora Media Chairman and CEO Joe Kennedy announced he was stepping down Thursday, after the company announced quarterly earnings that topped analysts' expectations and sent its stock soaring almost 20 perent in after-hours trading.
Although the Oakland-based streaming radio service reported a quarterly loss of 4 cents a share, revenue was up 54 percent, to $125.1 million, and first-quarter revenues are expected to beat expectations as well. The company said mobile revenue was up 111 percent, to $80.3 million for the quarter. As of 2:30 p.m., Pandora shares were up more than 19 percent.
Meanwhile, Pandora abruptly announced it was starting a search committee to find a successor to Kennedy, who has led the company since 2004. Kennedy said he will remain in his position until a new CEO is found.
"As I near the start of my tenth year at the helm of Pandora, I am incredibly proud of the team and what we have accomplished in redefining radio. As part of our board discussions of the road that lies ahead, I reached the conclusion and advised the board that the time is right to begin a process to identify my successor," Kennedy said in a statement.
"On behalf of the board, I would like to thank Joe for his leadership, dedication and innumerable contributions to Pandora," Pandora director Robert Kavner said in a statement. "We appreciate his continued strong leadership and dedication to the company through this process."
Dow finishes at another high
Wall Street continued its record week, as the Dow Jones industrial average reached an all-time high for the third consecutive day. All there major indexes ended the day with slight gains, with the Dow up 33.25, to close at 14,329.49. The Standard & Poor's 500 closed up 2.80, to 1,544.26, closing in on its own record of 1,565, set in 2007.
The markets were boosted by news that the four-week average of people seeking unemployment aid fell to a five-year low, an encouraging sign before Friday's federal employment report. Positive employment numbers, along with signs of an improving housing market, are creating an optimism that may stick, analysts say.
"The rally is going to go higher than most people think," Jeffery Saut, Raymond James' chief investment strategist, told the Associated Press. "This thing has caught most money managers flat-footed." Saut predicted that a rush of new investors would negate any temporary sell-off of stocks.
The tech-heavy Nasdaq was the biggest gainer of the day, up 0.30 percent. The Silicon Valley 150, an index of the biggest local tech companies, rose 0.36 percent. Besides Facebook, Juniper Networks was the big mover of the day, gaining $1, or 4.97 percent, to close at $21.12. Apple (AAPL) shares rose 1.16 percent to $430.58, maintaining a slight lead over Exxon Mobile the lagrest market cap, at $404.3 billion.
Silicon Valley tech stocks
The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index: Up 9.72, or 0.30 percent, to 3,232.09.
The blue chip Dow Jones industrial average: Up 33.25, or 0.23 percent, to 14,329.49.
And the widely watched Standard & Poor's 500 index: Up 2.80, or 0.18 percent, to 1,544.26.
Check in weekday afternoons for the 60-Second Business Break, a summary of news from Mercury News staff writers, the Associated Press, Bloomberg News and other wire services. Contact Jeremy C. Owens at 408-920-5876; follow him at Twitter.com/mercbizbreak.