Comcast posts solid profits despite torpedoed 'Battleship'

"Battleship" cost $220 million to produce but took in just $9.5 million on opening day, according to published reports. Other Comcast interests fared far better.
"Battleship" cost $220 million to produce but took in just $9.5 million on opening day, according to published reports. Other Comcast interests fared far better.
Posted: August 02, 2012

Battleship's flop at the box office dragged on NBCUniversal during the second quarter, but Comcast Corp.'s cable division produced solid revenue and profit, with gains in business services and Internet subscriptions.

Wall Street shrugged off the NBCUniversal news and sent Comcast's shares soaring 3.07 percent, up $1 at the close Wednesday, at $33.55 a share.

"I'm here in London, and this is indeed an exciting time for all parts of the company," Brian L. Roberts, chief executive officer and chairman, said in a conference call with analysts Wednesday morning. "The entire company is operating really well."

Roberts and other Comcast executives are attending the 2012 Olympic Games in London. NBCUniversal, which is 51 percent owned by Comcast, has bought the U.S. broadcast rights to the Olympics through 2020.

Steve Burke, head of NBCUniversal, said during the call that the Olympics' TV ratings were exceeding NBC's projections by a wide margin, and that NBCUniversal expected to break even financially on the Games.

Comcast has said it sold $1.2 billion in national and local TV and Internet advertisements for the Olympics, leaving only about $100 million in production costs uncovered through ad revenue.

"I think, given the trends, we stand to make money on future Olympics," Burke said.

Comcast's second-quarter revenue on a pro forma basis rose 3.5 percent to $15.2 billion, and net income jumped 32 percent to $1.35 billion when compared with the year-ago quarter. That quarter included a onetime tax-related charge of $137 million.

Spring traditionally is difficult for cable-TV subscriptions because people with vacation homes temporarily cancel service for the summer. Comcast shed 176,000 TV subscribers this year, compared with losing 238,000 in the year-ago quarter. Company executives said it was the best second quarter in four years, and the seventh consecutive quarter of improving cable-TV subscription metrics.

Comcast added 156,000 high-speed Internet customers in the quarter, compared with 144,000 new Internet customers in the prior-year period.

Revenue related to Internet subscriptions soared 8.9 percent in the quarter to $2.4 billion - or triple the growth rate in the company's cable-TV business. Cable-TV video revenue rose 2.8 percent to $5.1 billion.

Analysts and Comcast executives believe the Internet business is important to the company's future because of the maturing and competitive pay-TV market. Comcast has a total of 22.1 million cable-TV subscribers.

Seeking to broaden its customer base beyond homeowners and renters, Comcast has expanded into Internet and TV services to small- and medium-size businesses. Revenue in this division soared 34.2 percent to $582 million during the second quarter.

The biggest issue - previously signaled in comments from Roberts at an investor conference - was relatively weak performance at NBCUniversal because of the movie studio, higher programming costs at the cable networks, and a difficult comparison with the year-ago period, when NBCUniversal benefited from a rights deal with Netflix.

Revenue fell slightly, and operating cash flow declined about 15 percent. Comcast controls NBCUniversal in a joint venture with General Electric. The cable company is expected eventually to buy the remaining 49 percent from GE.

Comcast did not disclose the earnings hit it took from Battleship, which cost $220 million to produce but took in a meager $9.5 million on opening day, according to published reports. Comcast noted in its earnings report it lost $83 million in its "filmed entertainment" segment, compared with positive operating cash flow of $27 million in the year-ago quarter.

A bright spot was theme parks. Revenue rose 3.4 percent to $539 million during the second quarter, and operating cash flow was $235 million, compared with $225 million in the prior-year quarter.

"NBCUniversal's second-quarter performance came in as anticipated, and we continue to be very positive about our opportunities to build value across all the NBCUniversal businesses," Roberts said. "Comcast Cable and NBCUniversal are also working well together to launch innovative products and experiences - and these efforts are being showcased now as we utilize all of our content and technology platforms to deliver the most comprehensive Olympics coverage ever."


Contact Bob Fernandez

at 215-854-5897 or bob.fernandez@phillynews.com.

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