Snap could go private if it can't get people to stay on its app for longer, analyst says

Snap could go private if it can't get people to stay on its Snapchat app for longer and improve its monetization, according to a Wall Street research firm.

Snap, parent company of Snapchat, started publicly trading in March 2017 but has shed $20 billion in market capitalization since then and has struggled to attract new users.

"The data we look at is showing a widening user base, although one which is collectively reducing its time on the platform," said Brian Wieser, a senior research analyst at Pivotal Research Group, in an email to CNBC.

"Our take is that it is not too late for management to find ways to reverse recent usage trends and generally improve monetization regardless of those usage trends. With ongoing experimentation, we have some faith that they should be able to do both."

"At the same time, if they are unable to do so in the near term, the company could become an attractive candidate to go private with the stock's price at current levels," Wieser added. However, he remained positive overall about the stock and upgraded it from a "hold" to a "buy" in a recent research note.

Snapchat is facing heavy competition from Instagram and Facebook, which have added similar features, and on Wednesday Snapchat announced new scripted shows that will include six second unskippable ads. On Tuesday, analyst Michael Nathanson of MoffettNathanson wrote that Snap "wasn't prepared for life as a public company," and cut 2019 revenue estimates by 7 percent.

Digital advertising companies, including Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter, are at risk from rivals because of low barriers to competition as well as government regulations relating to consumers' privacy, Wieser added.

Snapchat's February redesign caused the app's first decline in daily users, which Snap Chief Executive Evan Spiegel said was "rushed," in a note to employees sent in September. Spiegel wants the company to break even in the fourth quarter of 2018 and become profitable in 2019.

Snap had not responded to CNBC's request for comment at the time of publication.

Disclosure: CNBC parent NBCUniversal is an investor in Snap