New Ad Discounts from X Point to Ongoing Growth Challenges

Despite all of the talk about Elon Musk’s changes at Twitter, and how they’ve been a positive or negative for the platform, really, none of these opinions actually matter in the broader scope of its business performance.

What matters is users, and generating more interest in the app, with attracting ad dollars being the secondary consideration, which should logically follow the first.

Elon Musk went into his Twitter acquisition with a plan to turn the app into a billion-user platform, and was seemingly convinced that he knew how to make Twitter great again, and deliver improvements for those who’ve been demanding a more free speech aligned, globally connective app.

But in practice, it hasn’t played out that way. And X is now struggling to make money as a result.

According to the latest data from AppFigures, X is currently the 39th most downloaded iOS app in the U.S., trailing every other major social app, except for Pinterest (41st) and LinkedIn (46th). And it’s worse on Android, with X coming in at 63rd on the list.

Some have suggested that the name change to X has hurt the app in this regard, as it’s made it harder for new users to find it. But either way, new users are very clearly not flocking to the app.

Or really, showing any interest at all, according to X’s own reporting.

Back in November 2022, just weeks after Musk took over at the app, he proudly proclaimed that his arrival had pushed the platform to a new record high of 250 million daily active users.

In March this year, X reported the exact same usage, with 250 million people logging into X daily.  

So based on X’s own data, it’s not seeing any growth in usage, despite Musk and Co. repeatedly claiming “record high” results in total incremental minutes/seconds/whatever other metric they’ve chosen at that time.

In theory, X could be seeing more time spent in the app by the people who are logging in, and that could be reaching new highs. But for advertisers, reaching expanded audiences is key, and at this stage, X is struggling on this front.

Which is why it’s now promoting discounts, in an effort to sign up more ad partners, and bring in more cash.

Yes, X is now offering $500 in ad credit for $250 in ad spend.

Which seems concerning, if X is this desperate to boost its ad intake.

The offer would suggest that X’s ad business is still a long way off track, despite Musk claiming that most advertisers have returned to the app after various periods of concern. Reports suggest that X’s ad intake is still down around 50% on pre-Elon levels, and if X feels the need to make big offers like this, that seems to reinforce the case. Which would mean that despite Musk’s assurances that everything is fine, X may well be on the way to bankruptcy, even with one of the richest people in the world behind it.

The situation has also been worsened by X being saddled with billions in debt, as part of the Musk acquisition. In order to get the required funding for his Twitter purchase, Musk took out a significant loan, which comes with interest repayments totaling around $1.5 billion per year. X has seemingly tried to renegotiate this, but even at a discount, that’s still a major impediment, considering that the company only brought in $2.5 billion in total revenue in 2023.

And while Elon has slashed costs, the calculations here still look problematic, which could mean that X is in more trouble than it’s currently letting on.

Musk has also sought to reduce the platform’s reliance on ad dollars, by augmenting that with subscription, but that’s also failed to resonate with the vast majority of X users.

According to AppFigures X brought in $8 million of net revenue from the App Store and Google Play in April 2024. Which, averaged out to $8 per user/month for X Premium, means that, at best, only a million X users are currently paying to use the app.

That would equate to 0.4% of X’s user base, which is a far cry from what X would need to generate from subscriptions in order to make this a viable consideration.

It also suggests that newly implemented elements, like access to its Grok AI chatbot, are failing to entice more sign-ups, and that being the case, it’s hard to see where X goes from here to sweeten its subscription deals.  

But again, Elon is super rich, and he could, at least in theory, just continue to fund X in perpetuity, even without more ad and subscription revenue. Right?

Well, yes and no. Reports suggest that most of Musk’s money is tied up in his various companies, so shoveling cash into a losing venture is not really an option long-term, while again, Musk also has investors and debtors to pay, who are relying on him to turn the project around.

So maybe X is less reliant on external funding than Twitter once was, but that’s only, seemingly, in theory. In practice, X could very well go out of business, with Musk left unable to save it.

So what comes next? Well, given his investment in the outcome of the U.S. election, I would expect Elon to keep pushing X till at least the end of the year. But if the result doesn’t go the way that he wants, and things don’t improve, I could see X shutting down entirely, sometime in 2025.

Will that happen? There’s a lot that could, of course, change between now and then, and X still has a substantial enough audience to potentially convert itself into a solid business, at least from an external assessment.

But the path to that success is definitely not clear. And the fact that X is offering massive ad discounts is not a positive signal at this stage.