Comcast Earnings Provide Some Reassurance

Cable Giant Loses Fewer Subscribers in the Quarter

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Comcast's third-quarter earnings provide some relief, as the cable giant lost fewer subscribers and managed to modestly increase at revenue for its NBC Universal networks despite ratings weakness.

Profit excluding some items was 80 cents a share, Philadelphia-based Comcast said in a statement Tuesday. That met the average of projections compiled by Bloomberg. Revenue rose 11% to $18.7 billion, topping estimates of $18 billion. Box-office hits "Minions" and "Jurassic World" helped drive up sales in the film division by 64%.

Since abandoning its $45.2 billion plan to buy Time Warner Cable in April, Comcast has focused on retaining video customers by rolling out a new cloud-based X1 platform. The company lost 48,000 cable-TV subscribers in the quarter, its best showing in nine years. Three analysts surveyed by Bloomberg had projected an average drop of 66,000 last quarter.

Comcast also signed up 320,000 internet customers in the period, 1.6% more than a year earlier. That topped the average analyst estimate of 304,000.

Comcast has more internet customers than video subscribers. And as people increasingly watch TV online instead of through cable TV, the company has tried to adjust by developing a subscription web-streaming service called Stream, and introducing a free online video service, Watchable, featuring videos from youth-oriented networks such as Vice Media and AwesomenessTV.

The average monthly customer bill rose 4.3% to $143.12.

Comcast has also been taking steps to enter new markets currently dominated by phone companies, such as selling high-speed Internet to big businesses and exploring a possible wireless service that would compete with major U.S. carriers. Sales in the business service division, which sells phone, web and video services to companies, rose more than 19% to $1.21 billion, and has become one of the company's fastest- growing sources of revenue.

Sales at the NBC Universal group, which includes the NBC broadcast network, cable channels such as USA and MSNBC, and the Universal film studio, rose 21% to $7.15 billion.

Ratings at NBCUniversal's cable networks have fallen an average of 12% in the past 12 months, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. Still, advertising revenue at the cable networks rose 2% to $813 million, and overall cable network revenue gained 7%.

The film unit generated $1.95 billion in sales during the quarter. The animated "Minions" was the highest-grossing domestic movie in the period, with $333 million in ticket sales, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.

~~ Bloomberg News