Olympics, cable growth spur Comcast revenue

Posted: April 24, 2014

The Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, scored $1.1 billion in advertising revenue for NBCUniversal's broadcast-TV and cable networks, 40 percent more than the advertising for the Vancouver Winter Games in 2010, Comcast Corp. reported Tuesday.

The coverage boosted Comcast's revenues to $17.4 billion in the first quarter of 2014. Comcast shares rose 1.9 percent, or 95 cents, to $50.83 at the market's close.

The cable-TV giant also added 24,000 new TV subscribers for the second consecutive quarterly gain after years of losses, including the loss of 25,000 cable-TV customers in the year-ago period.

Comcast also added 383,000 new high-speed Internet customers.

First-quarter net income soared 30.2 percent to $1.9 billion from $1.4 billion in the first quarter of 2013 on the Olympics and a general NBC turnaround. According to Olympics officials in 2010, Comcast paid $775 million for the U.S. TV rights for the 2014 Olympics, and they seemed solidly profitable. The 71 cents a share in net income beat Wall Street estimates of 64 cents a share.

Weaknesses appeared to be advertising at the NBCUniversal cable networks that faced ratings declines, such as CNBC and USA Network; Comcast cable-TV revenue; and theme parks.

The Easter holiday fell in the first quarter in 2013 and came this year in the second quarter, pushing off Easter visits to the theme parks to the second quarter.

Comcast is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in Harry Potter-related attractions at Universal parks in Orlando and Los Angeles to challenge Walt Disney Co.'s tourism and resort business.

Brian Roberts, Comcast's chairman and chief executive, said the company was "off to a great start" in 2014 and the "headline is the Sochi Olympics."

He also reiterated his endorsement of Comcast's proposed $45.2 billion all-stock deal to acquire the nation's No. 2 cable operator, Time Warner Cable Inc. Comcast and Time Warner Cable shares have fallen since the deal was announced over concerns about regulatory approvals, the potential billions of dollars needed to upgrade Time Warner Cable's network, and Comcast's balance sheet.

Comcast will hold $70 billion in debt when the deal closes. Comcast has said it will divest three million cable-TV subscribers when the deal closes. Roberts said the Time Warner Cable purchase "remains very compelling."

Time Warner Cable shares also jumped on Comcast's earnings report. Time Warner Cable gained 1.4 percent, or $1.87, to $138.47. Time Warner Cable shareholders will own 23 percent of Comcast after the deal closes.

Minus the Sochi Olympics, Comcast's revenue rose 6.5 percent in the first quarter. Its cable division operations did generally well, with 9 percent revenue growth in the Internet broadband business, and 24 percent revenue growth in business services.

Roberts and other Comcast executives again praised the cloud-based X1 set-top box and channel guide, saying it has reduced churn by 20 percent to 30 percent. Churn is when subscribers drop the Comcast service for another TV or Internet provider.

At NBCUniversal, $886 million of the Olympics-related advertising flowed to the NBC broadcast-TV business, which aired events on prime time. An additional $257 million in advertising flowed into the cable-TV networks, which aired many of the sporting events during the day. This was a substantial change from 2010, when NBC aired most of the games on broadcast TV.

Even without Olympics advertising, NBCUniversal notched an 8.1 percent revenue gain in Quarter 1. The performance has been attributed to the steady recovery in NBC's prime-time TV slate.


bfernbandez@phillynews.com

267-443-3518

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