Comcast reports revenue, subscribers up in 4Q

Comcast Corp. saw an increase in total fourth-quarter revenue.
Comcast Corp. saw an increase in total fourth-quarter revenue. (Bloomberg)
Posted: January 30, 2014

Cable isn't dead.

The nation's largest cable company, Comcast Corp., added 43,000 TV subscribers in the fourth quarter of 2013 after losing more than two million TV customers in 26 consecutive quarters over a half-dozen years because of competing online video, satellite-TV providers, and telephone companies entering the TV business.

Reversing the TV drain in its legacy business had been a top priority and Comcast attributed the reversal to improved customer service and lower customer churn. Comcast stanched losses, moreover, without cutting prices or even slowing persistent annual rate hikes for its triple play of Internet, TV, and phone services.

Cable division head Neil Smit said in a conference call with analysts that "it will take a while" before Comcast adds TV subscribers over a full year. This year, Comcast subscribers will see an average 3 percent hike in their cable bills, Smit said.

Comcast disclosed the "video adds" with fourth-quarter earnings that showed the company's revenue climbed 6.2 percent to $16.9 billion.

Net income rose 26 percent to $1.9 billion.

Seeking to keep investors happy, Comcast disclosed that it would boost its yearly dividend in 2014 to 90 cents a share from 78 cents. The Comcast board also approved repurchasing $3 billion in Comcast shares in 2014.

Michael Angelakis, chief financial officer and vice chairman, said Comcast would increase cash returned to shareholders through dividend payments and share repurchases by 30 percent in 2014 when compared with 2013.

Comcast stock price opened higher and stayed higher through the day. It closed at $53.35, up 86 cents or 1.64 percent.

Comcast executives on the analyst conference call, including chief executive Brian Roberts, declined to answer questions on a potential deal to acquire part or all of Time Warner Cable Inc.

Comcast could purchase Time Warner Cable's New York franchises, and other cable franchises along the I-95 corridor, from Charter Communications, industry sources say.

Time Warner Cable has rebuffed Charter Communcations' $132.50-a-share buyout offer. Charter, partly controlled by cable pioneer John Malone, now could launch a hostile bid for Time Warner Cable by nominating a slate of directors to Time Warner Cable's board. Charter would partly pay for a hostile takeover by selling the New York franchises to Comcast, which already serves Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington.

Comcast's all-important cable division, headlined by video additions, grew its Internet customer base by 379,000 subscribers, more than the 341,000 customers added in the year-ago fourth quarter.

Comcast has now added more than one million new Internet customers for eight consecutive years - a stark contrast to the more than six years of consecutive losses in the TV business. It's possible that the number of Comcast Internet subscribers could exceed its TV customers in 2014.

Comcast also boosted its phone customers by 227,000, compared with 168,000 in the prior-year's quarter.

NBCUniversal, Comcast's news and entertainment division, seems to be steadily improving with profit growth in broadcast television, the Universal movie studio, and theme parks.

In the fourth quarter, NBC broadcast-TV revenue rose 11.5 percent to $2.2 billion. Roberts noted in his presentation to analysts that NBC's prime-time ratings are no longer dependent on NFL games because of the popularity of The Voice, Blacklist, and Revolution.

"First you have to get the ratings and then you have to sell the ratings," Steve Burke, head of NBCUniversal, said in the conference call. "Pretty much everywhere you look, we think there is more opportunity."

The Universal movie studio had a record-breaking year in 2013, Comcast executives said. But they warned that the movie studio's slate was thin for 2014 as it prepared for a blockbuster 2015.

For all of 2013, Comcast reported revenues of $64.7 billion and net income of $6.8 billion.


bfernandez@phillynews.com

267-443-3517

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