Comcast Grows TV Subscribers for the First Time in Six Years

Ends 26 Straight Quarters of Video Subscriber Losses

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Comcast Corp., the largest U.S. cable company and the owner of NBC Universal, reported a 26% increase in fourth-quarter profit after adding TV subscribers for the first time in more than six years.

Net income rose to $1.91 billion, or 72 cents a share, in the quarter, the Philadelphia-based company said today in a statement. Comcast also increased its dividend by 15% to 90 cents a year and authorized an additional $7.5 billion in share repurchases, with $3 billion planned for this year.

Comcast marked an important milestone in the period by adding 43,000 TV subscribers, ending 26 straight quarters of declines. The company has worked to stem the slide in TV customers as a weak economy and competing offerings from telecommunications firms like Verizon Communications have chipped away at the cable industry. (Verizon recently struck a deal to buy Intel's nascent web-based pay-TV service, signaling more competition for cable on the way.)

"Our results highlight the momentum we have achieved and how we are benefiting from scale, our investment in innovative products, and from our focus on operational excellence," CEO Brian Roberts said in the statement.

Under Mr. Roberts, Comcast has invested in a new digital interface, called Xfinity, that gives customers the ability to store and watch TV shows through an internet server, or a cloud-based system. The so-called TV Everywhere approach lets subscribers see programs on a range of devices, including tablets and phones. The company also plans to make next month's Winter Olympics broadcasts available online to subscribers.

"Comcast is unique" among cable operators because of its TV Everywhere offering, Todd Mitchell, an analyst with Brean Capital, said in a note to clients before today's report.

Time Warner Cable in play?
Comcast also is near a deal to buy cable systems in New York City, New England and North Carolina from Charter Communications, if Charter succeeds in its takeover bid for Time Warner Cable, people with knowledge of the matter said yesterday. An agreement would give Comcast an additional 3 million customers in those markets and could be valued at about $16 billion.

The asset sale would be contingent on Charter's acquisition of Time Warner Cable, which still could fall through, said the people, who asked not to be named because the negotiations are private. Charter has offered $132.50 per share for Time Warner Cable, valuing the cable company at $37.4 billion excluding debt. Time Warner Cable has rejected the proposal, calling it "grossly inadequate."

Fourth-quarter revenue gained 6.2% to $16.9 billion, Comcast said today. Analysts had predicted $16.6 billion on average, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Its net income climbed from $1.52 billion, or 56 cents a share, in the year-earlier period.

In addition to video subscribers, Comcast added about 379,000 internet customers and 227,000 phone-service users.

NBC Universal, which includes the NBC broadcast network, cable channels such as USA and MSNBC, and the Universal film studio, generated a 7.5% increase in revenue to $6.46 billion. NBC led the division's gains, surging almost 12% to $2.23 billion on improved ratings. Comcast acquired the remainder of NBC Universal from General Electric Co. for $16.7 billion in March.

~ Bloomberg News ~

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